Unreliable goaltending. Weak penalty killing. Overly reliant on the power play. Not defensively sound enough to withstand the pressure of good offensive teams. In spite of the Washington Capitals’ many impressive offensive credentials, it was these negatives that were cited by most pundits as a big reason why they were picking the Pittsburgh Penguins to win a series in which Washington had home ice advantage.
So, in a game where the Washington offense was inconsistent and turnover prone (22 giveaways, only 26 shots), where they got only two power play opportunities (none after the first period), where the defense had to kill five penalties (including two in the third period), where the team was out-chanced throughout (a playoff-high 36 shots allowed), and where their 21-year-old goaltender allowed a crushing softy in the midst of a second period that the Caps were dominating, the table was set for a Pittsburgh blowout. But something strange happened.
The deficiency-ridden, misfiring Caps won anyway.
A defense that played poorly played just well enough when it mattered most (on the penalty kill and in the late game frenzy). A goalie that cost the Caps a second period lead with a stinker suddenly morphed into a human highlight reel. An offense that couldn’t click got a big play from a secondary player. And buoyed by a raucous home crowd clad in red, the Caps eeked out a 3-2 win to take a 1-0 edge in the best of seven Eastern Conference Semi-Final series.
It is far too early to say what this game portends. No doubt, if the Penguins win Game 2 and continue to outplay the Caps in Pittsburgh, people will say that Game 1 was the first sign that the Caps were outgunned in the series. If things continue to go well for the boys in red, it will be a sign that the intangible puck luck is in their corner.
But whichever way hindsight will further define today’s outcome, the Washington Capitals just won a game that everyone told them they couldn’t win. For Caps fans, that is something to be very encouraged about.