There are good nights, there are bad nights.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had themselves a bad night.
Staving off elimination for the second-time, the Washington Capitals, led by a staunch defensive campaign, utterly dominated the Pens in a 5-2 in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at PPG Paints Arena Monday night.
The Caps will now host the winner-take-all Game Seven finale at Verizon Center Wednesday night.
The Penguins, who heard the call of boo-birds on multiple occasions, mustered up just 18 shots on goal, despite scoring the last two goals of the game, including an Evgeni Malkin finish off a Conor Sheary dish with just under three minutes left in the game, marking the last goal of the night.
Fans ushered out of the arena at the 8:43 mark when John Carlson knocked in his second goal of the postseason, sealing the deal on the fourth goal for the Caps. Andre Burakovsky added insult to injury when he punched in his second goal of the game, an unassisted fifth and final Caps twine-tapper just over a minute later.
“I think it’s frustrating when you have an opportunity like this to win a game, win a series at home and you don’t play the way that you like,” said Mike Sullivan. “There was a little bit of frustration, but we talked about grabbing ahold of ourselves, staying focused and playing the game the right way. To a man, we just weren’t that good enough tonight.”
From jump, the Capitals stepped in as the superior team, scoring quick on Marc-Andre Fleury with a TJ Oshie (4) one-timer on the man-advantage at the 12:41 mark in the first period. Washington added a Burakovsky one-timer, completing 60 minutes of hockey, outshooting the Pens 16-9.
The Capitals pasted 26 shots on Fleury for the game, as the netminder gave up all five goals.
It took the Pens just over 12 minutes to finally achieve their first shot on goal of the night.
“Obviously I don’t think this was our best game as a team,” said Flower. “They are a good team, they played right and they beat us.”
Keeping it out of the Washington zone was a priority problem for the Penguins, who managed control of the puck just over 30% of the time.
“Nothing worked, no power play, no (penalty kill), no five-on-five, but we still have just one chance, just one win, you know,” Malkin stated. “We know we’re playing against a good team, but it is the same situation.”
Despite the clear edge Washington has carried in its last two games, Sullivan has strayed away from declaring defeat in the momentum category.
“There’s all kinds of momentum changes. It’s not who has momentum game-to-game, I’m not convinced that’s the case,” Sullivan said. “It’s a matter of putting your best game on the ice. That’s my experience in, not just this series, but all of the series going on. There are momentum swings period-to-period. We’re disappointed we missed an opportunity tonight. We were hopeful we would put our best game on the ice tonight, it didn’t happen. We’re going to move forward and make sure we are in the right mind frame for Game Seven.”
Malkin is also confident in the Penguins, who, in franchise history, have never dropped a Game Seven to the Washington Capitals (3-0).
“If you play Game Seven, it is always 50/50. No one is favorite,” Geno said. “We know we have a good team, we have a good goalie. If we play like how we want, how we can, we can win. We’ve won big games before, and it is just one more game. They think they win an easy game tonight, and they think they can win Game Seven, I say no. We have a great team and I believe in my teammates. We’ve played Game Seven before, and we will be ready.”
Puck drops at Verizon Center at 7:30 Wednesday night.
NOTES: Sidney Crosby, who gathered his career-97th assist when dishing a finish by Jake Guentzel to score the other Penguins goal Wednesday night, surpassed Mario Lemieux on Pittsburgh’s all-time list for assists in the postseason.