WASHINGTON (AP) — Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin scored 27 seconds apart in the third period as the Washington Capitals avoided elimination by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in Game 5 on Saturday night.
Nicklas Backstrom tied the score early in the third as the Capitals finally solved Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed four goals on 32 shots. Washington’s comeback spoiled the return of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby after a one-game absence due to a concussion.
Crosby had an assist and Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who lead the second-round series 3-2 with Game 6 back in Pittsburgh on Monday night.
While Fleury struggled for the first time against the Capitals, Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby had his best game of the series, stopping 20 shots. Andre Burakovsky also scored for Washington.
Even though players were loose at the morning skate facing elimination, the nerves were palpable inside the arena even before puck drop. When an early Capitals power play went nowhere and Hagelin made it 1-0 Pittsburgh 10:24 in, it got quiet fast — except for Penguins fans’ derisive chants of “HOLT-BY, HOLT-BY.”
Burakovsky pumped some energy back in with a psychologically important goal with 29.7 seconds remaining in the first period, his first of the playoffs. He earned a promotion to the top line because of his strong play in the series but scored back with the third line on a toe drag that bought him space and a shot that froze Fleury.
Hours after defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk bemoaned that ill-timed penalties were hurting the Capitals, a holding call on Nate Schmidt paved the way for another momentum shift as Kessel scored on the power play 4:20 into the second. The Penguins went into the second intermission with a lead having won 37 of 39 games in that spot during the regular season and all six in the playoffs.
It took an individual effort from Backstrom to begin Washington’s stunning turnaround. The Capitals’ top-line center carried the puck up the ice, executed a give-and-go with Burakovsky and beat Fleury for the tying goal at 2:49 of the third.
With the crowd buzzing again, Kuznetsov sparked more chants of “FLEU-RY, FLEU-RY,” by scoring the go-ahead goal from a sharp angle 7:20 into the third. It was his fifth goal of the playoffs and fourth in the series.
Ovechkin wasted no time making it 4-2 and making coach Barry Trotz look like a genius for dropping him to the third line as he wired a shot past Fleury at 7:47. Trotz talked about spreading offense throughout the lineup, and his flipping Burakovsky and Ovechkin allowed for Washington’s first goal from its bottom two lines in five games.
NOTES: In addition to Crosby, Penguins RW Conor Sheary returned after being concussed Monday in a collision with teammate Patric Hornqvist. … Capitals D Brooks Orpik appeared to shake his left hand after being slashed by Evgeni Malkin in the first period. … The Capitals again dressed seven defensemen. … Super Bowl winning Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien received a nice ovation from the sellout crowd when he was shown on the video boards.