The Penguins winger collected a puck that rebounded off of Capitals defenseman Mike Weber and wristed it through goaltender Braden Holtby’s five hole. Exactly sixteen years after the Penguins and Flyers played the longest NHL game ever recorded, Hornqvist scored 2:34 into overtime to provide the second-quickest overtime finish in Penguins history.
“[Hornqvist] does those thankless jobs that you can’t necessarily quantify,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “To see him get rewarded in overtime for us is a thrill because he’s really a great teammate.”
This postseason, Hornqvist has eight points, including a team-leading five goals, in nine games this year. The winger had never managed more than four points in any other playoff campaign.
Pittsburgh played a more complete game on Wednesday night, which was necessary in the absence of suspended star defenseman Kris Letang. Defenseman Trevor Daley took the lion’s share of Letang’s lost minutes. Daley stepped up and logged 28:41 of ice time in Letang’s absence, just two seconds shy of his career high.
“We knew going in, when you lose your top minute guy and probably your best player for the whole year, it wasn’t just going to be the six of us,” Daley said. “We had to step up as a group.”
And step up as a group they did. Sidney Crosby was held to just an assist on the scorecard, but was a consistent presence in the Penguins offense. Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin wreaked havoc on the forecheck. Stay-at-home defenders Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, and Ben Lovejoy policed their goaltender’s crease.
On Monday night, the Penguins won even though they were outperformed in the box score. Wednesday night’s game was a dead heat. Shots on goal (36-to-33 in Washington’s favor) and hits (47-41 Pittsburgh) were essentially even and, for much of the game, so was the score.
When the Capitals kickstarted the scoring just 2:58 into the game with a fluky backhand goal by fourth-line forward Jay Beagle, the Penguins responded with a weird goal of their own a little more than five minutes later.
On the rush, Trevor Daley took a shot that was partially blocked by Capitals defender Karl Alzner. Holtby, anticipating a play by a crashing Sidney Crosby, started across the crease and the puck trickled in behind him.
“I just closed my eyes and shot,” Daley said.
In the second period, Matt Cullen broke away from the pack off of a center-ice faceoff and snuck the puck past Holtby’s right pad to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead. Later in the game, the 39-year old center screamed into the attacking zone on a two-on-one and rang a hard shot off of the crossbar.
Washington responded later in the period when Justin Williams picked defenseman Derrick Pouliot’s pocket in the Penguins zone and fed John Carlson, who sent a top-shelf wrist shot past goaltender Matt Murray to tie the game at two.
That was all that the Penguins and their 21-year old goaltender would allow, however. Coming off of a 47-save performance that stole the show on Monday, Murray stopped 34 of 36 shots in Pittsburgh’s Game Four victory. Murray has a .944 save percentage in his seven career playoff games.
While Pittsburgh’s win has the city teeming with confidence, the Penguins refused to look past the Capitals in anticipation of what would be the team’s first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2013.
“It’s a big win,” Cullen said. “It puts us in a good spot, but that’s all it does. There’s a lot of series left and there’s a good hockey team over there.”
The Penguins will get their first shot at ending Washington’s season when they head to the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7:15.