RECAP 51: Rollercoaster; Guentzel's OT tally clinches 15th consecutive playoff berth for Pens

RECAP 51: Rollercoaster; Guentzel's OT tally clinches 15th consecutive playoff berth for Pens

Penguins

RECAP 51: Rollercoaster; Guentzel's OT tally clinches 15th consecutive playoff berth for Pens

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WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 29: Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game winning goal against the Washington Capitals in overtime at Capital One Arena on April 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHL via Getty Images)

Just one standings point separates the Capitals from the Penguins for first place in the East division entering their Thursday night tilt.

With the playoffs right around the corner, it’s a measuring stick game for two teams destined to clash in a 7-game series in the near future.

LINEUP

No Evgeni Malkin, but Freddy Gaudreau made his return to the lineup in favor of Mark Jankowski.

It should not be understated how much of an upgrade that is:

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The Capitals went without Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson.

This was the first time Ovechkin had ever missed a game against the Penguins.

Get ready for Tom Wilson, Brendan Dillon and Garnet Hathaway to act like absolute tool bags.

1st period

WSH PP GOAL – Oshie (18) A: Schultz, Backstrom [7:27] 1-0 WSH

T.J. Oshie got the game’s first goal on a sweet deflection out front.

The blast came from former Penguins’ blueliner Justin Schultz, who’s putting together a resurgent season.

This goal was especially maddening considering we saw this exact play from Schultz a lot in his final season with the Penguins, except most of the time the shot was going directly into the shin pads of the opposition.

PIT GOAL – Kapanen (9) Unassisted [15:27] 1-1

Toward the end of the period, Kasperi Kapanen knotted the score thanks to his great hand-eye and a gift from Nicklas Backstrom.

Backstrom threw the puck up the slot from the boards and Kapanen batted it out of mid-air before striking.

Because Kapanen didn’t stick handle once, it was a guessing game for Vitek Vanecek as to where the puck would go. Great job by Kapanen to not over-stick handle as some players do when they have a wide open opportunity from the royal road.

2nd period

PIT GOAL – Gaudreau (2) A: Zucker, Sceviour [8:32] 2-1 PIT

Is it poetic or simply hilarious that Jankowski’s replacement scored less than halfway through his first game back?

Freddy G put the Pens on top on a nice dish from Jason Zucker, who found him streaking to the front of the net.

Gaudreau has been crushing his role this season, but it’s really just the cherry on top to not having Jankowski sucking the life out of your offense.

WSH GOAL – Orlov (8) A: Backstrom [9:02] 2-2

The lead didn’t last long as Dmitry Orlov tied it on a goal that looked like something straight out of NHL 08.

NHL 08 - Wikipedia

(Remember when Eric Staal was stiil [lol] good? I thought he might be a decent option for the Penguins but apparently he’s sucked even harder in Montreal).

I’m pretty sure I destroyed an XBOX 360 controller over a goal exactly like this.

Not blaming Jarry. Moving on.

WSH GOAL – Sprong (11) A: Schultz, Orlov [15:07] 3-2 WSH

Another former Penguin (the Capitals have four of them), Daniel Sprong scored his fourth goal in three games to put the Caps back on top.

Not a whole lot the Pens did wrong here, this was just an awesome play by Sprong to fight off Dumoulin and get himself to the front of the net and in a position to deflect the puck.

Like Schultz, he’s having a really strong season.

PIT GOAL – Aston-Reese (9) A: Sceviour [18:11] 3-3

It felt like we were due for a Zach Aston-Reese goal and his signature celly.

Sure enough, it came at the perfect time as the second period was winding down.

Colton Sceviour did an outstanding job of turning the puck over on the forecheck and immediately getting the puck to ZAR in a scoring position.

Sceviour is quietly producing at a pretty solid rate with fourth line minutes this season, a lot of which were spent with Jankowski. With a completely healthy squad, I’m not sure he stays in the lineup, but it’s just another testament to the sheer depth of this team.

Do with this as you please. Shoutout to CK for the insight.

3rd period

PIT GOAL – Kapanen (10) A: McCann, Carter [10:55] 4-3 PIT

I mentioned this on Twitter during the game, but Kapanen might be the most opportunistic player the Pens have had in a long time.

The Penguins don’t generate a ton of quality offense with Kapanen on the ice, but he almost always seems to convert on the chances he does get. The dude simply cannot stop scoring off the rush.

Mike Sullivan and co. have given him much more freedom than he probably ever had in Toronto and it’s paying dividends.

Incredible pass from McCann to spring him, and an even better shot by Kapanen who wired it to the roof of the net.

WSH GOAL – Wilson (12) A: Kuznetsov, Backstrom [19:45] 4-4

The Caps tied it just moments before regulation ended as Kris Letang and Bryan Rust’s defensive zone blunders left Tom Wilson wide open in front of the net.

Kuznetsov made a great play along the wall to fend off pressure before finding Wilson out front. He ripped it past Jarry and we’re headed to OT.

Overtime

PIT GOAL – Guentzel (22) A: Marino, McCann [2:11] 5-4 PIT

Just over two minutes into overtime, Jake Guentzel beat Vanecek and ensured the Penguins would secure their 15th consecutive playoff berth. That is the longest active streak in pro sports.

This is the kind of goal that makes you jump off the couch and yell “let’s fu**ing go” at the top of your lungs.

McCann did a phenomenal job of hounding the puck and finding Marino in the slot. Marino received the pass and immediately threw the puck at Guentzel’s stick as he was standing at the goal mouth.

You know what happened from there.

BIG WIN AND A REASON TO CELEBRATE.

Let’s just hope that loser point for Washington doesn’t cost the Pens the division title.

As it stands, the Penguins and Capitals are tied for first place in the East with 69 points, though Washington has a game in hand.

FINAL: 5-4 PIT (OT)

All situations, shot attempts were dead even at 61, but the Capitals had the advantage in scoring chances (28-20) and high-danger chances (13-6).

The Caps also had a slight expected goals advantage (2.54-2.38), per Evolving Hockey.

Notes

  • As is tradition when the Pens get players back from injury, somebody else got hurt. In the first period Evan Rodrigues got hit in the foot by a Mike Matheson slap shot and missed the remainder of the game. He logged just 1:52 time on ice. It’s not a crushing blow if he misses any time, but he’s been a swiss army knife for the Pens this season.
  • Will Sullivan be able to keep McCann-Carter-Kapanen together? They picked up two 5v5 goals and controlled more than 50% of the shot attempts and expected goals. I have a hard time seeing a Malkin line without one of McCann or Kapanen, but this line has the potential to be lethal if kept together.
  • My father jokingly texted me after the first period that Patrice Bergeron broke the Crosby line. Though they came out ahead in shot attempts, they controlled just 40% of the expected goals and yet again gave up a ton defensively. It has flown under the radar but this line has been getting worked in their own end for quite some time now. With Malkin returning, it might not be the worst idea in the world to give him Rust and promote Jason Zucker to the top line.
  • Freddy Gaudreau played just over six minutes at 5v5, but I figured I’d mention he led the team in shot attempt share and expected goals share on the evening. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Jankowski.

Rematch Saturday night. 7 PM EST puck drop. LGP.

Thanks for reading! Let’s talk hockey on Twitter! Follow me @shireyirving.

All data via Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey

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