Round 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals went to Pittsburgh on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.
In another up and down highly entertaining game, Marc Andre Fleury stole the show, making 32 saves and turning aside six Capitals shooters in leading Pittsburgh to a 3-2 shootout win.
The game almost didn’t make it to a shootout.
At 2:35 in overtime, Fleury robbed Mike Green with a sprawling glove save while on his back, reaching back across the goal line to stop Green who appeared to have won the game for Washington.
The play was reviewed and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau thought the puck went in.
“Save for the fact that you can’t see through leather, we probably would have won the game,” Boudreau said.
Fleury though was the difference maker in the game.
“He {Marc Andre Fleury} won them the game, Caps defenseman Mike Green said.
Penguins players said after the game that this is as consistent as Fleury has ever played and the Penguins goaltender has turned a disastrous first month of the season into an All-Star season as the Penguins hit the holiday break.
“Without [Marc Andre Fleury] and his play, It’s a much different outcome,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “At the start… at the end, all the way through… he was a big part of us finding a way to win tonight.”

In the win Crosby continued his dominance as the games best player in extending his points streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist. At the 36 game mark, Crosby is the NHL’s leading scorer with 60 points on 29 goals and 31 assists in 36 games, has the league’s longest points streak since 1992-93 when Quebec’s Mats Sundin had a 30-game run.
Pascal Dupuis scored the decisive goal for the Penguins in the seventh round of the shootout. Chris Kunitz also scored for the Penguins who go into the holiday break with an NHL best 24-10-2-(50pts) record and have won 15 of 17 games.
Kunitz collected his 9th goal of the season just 17 seconds into the third period and on an individual level is playing his best overall hockey since coming to Pittsburgh in February 2009.
The Capitals at times dictated the play but what caught my eye in looking at a potential playoff matchup down the road is the Penguins physical play. The way the two teams are built, Washington can’t match Pittsburgh’s physicality and the Penguins repeatily made life hard on Washington’s defensemen, especially on the forecheck.
Mike Green had an excellent game for the Capitals but Pittsburgh was hitting him at every opportunity and although it was just one game, if you still look at this Capitals team, they don’t look like a team built to win in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, the first matchup of the season met all expectations to set up the January 1st showdown at Heinz Field.
“You almost could have wished this was the outdoor game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, “but it’s a prelude for sure.”
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal for the eighth straight game. Ovechkin, who had the Capitals’ lone goal in the shootout, has two goals in his last 19 games.
Ovechkin delivered a clean blindside hit on countryman Evgeni Malkin who got caught with his head down coming around the Penguins net. The hit energized the crowd but the Capitals were not able to capitalize as Crosby gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead, just 3:21 into the game on their first shot, redirecting a shot past Michal Neuvirth from the right post for his 29th goal of the season.
In the game, Pittsburgh was excellent on PK killing off 5 of 6 penalties.
The Penguins were not as good on the power play, going 0-for-5 in the game and giving up a Mike Knuble shorthanded goal with less than 6 minutes to play.
Alex Goligoski turned the puck over at the blueline with a lazy cross-ice pass and then was beat to the net by Knuble who tied the game at 2-2.
The Penguins and the NHL shutdown for Christmas and the Penguins return to game action Sunday night in Ottawa.
The Penguins recalled G John Curry from AHL Scranton/Wilkes Barre to replace G Brent Johnson (groin). Curry served as Fleury’s backup. Pittsburgh also scratched RW Arron Asham (lower body), Ben Lovejoy (Face) and Dustin Jeffrey (healthy)
Jeffrey was a late callup on Thursday morning and at the time when he got the call, he was back home in Ontario for the Christmas holiday.
The coaching staff decided to dress Eric Godard who had 5 shifts in the game.