Jakub Vrana scored the go-ahead goal with 4:38 remaining, Braden Holtby made 35 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 in Game 5 Saturday night to take a 3-2 lead in the second-round series and put the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions on the brink of elimination.
Vrana made coach Barry Trotz look like a genius for moving him to the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, replacing Devante Smith-Pelly in the second period. Vrana sprung Kuznetsov for a breakaway on Washington’s tying goal 52 seconds into the third and finished off Ovechkin’s pass for the game-winner.
The Capitals are one victory from advancing to the Eastern Conference final for the first time in the Ovechkin era and overall since 1998, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final. They can move on to face the winner of the Tampa Bay-Boston series if they win Game 6 Monday in Pittsburgh.
They’re up on the Penguins on the strength of Ovechkin’s offense and the goaltending of Holtby, who kept them in the game for long stretches when the Penguins were pressing. Holtby was at his best when the Capitals were outshot 18-5 in the second period.
John Carlson and Brett Connolly scored 33 seconds apart in the first period for Washington to erase Pittsburgh’s lead from Jamie Oleksiak’s goal. Several penalties allowed Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist to score power-play goals that put the Penguins ahead until Trotz’s switch paid dividends with Vrana’s assist.
Washington put Pittsburgh on the brink despite playing without star center Nicklas Backstrom for much of the third period. With Lars Eller double-shifting, the Capitals took control of the game and iced it on empty-netters by T.J. Oshie and Eller.
The Capitals took a 3-2 series lead on the Penguins for the first time in four playoff series dating to 2009. They needed to erase a 3-1 deficit just to force a Game 7 last year.
NOTES: Matt Murray allowed four goals on 30 shots in net for Pittsburgh. … The goals 33 seconds apart by Carlson and Connolly were the second-fastest in Capitals playoff history behind Craig Laughlin and Dave Christian (32 seconds) in 1984. … Crosby took sole possession of second place on the Penguins’ all-time playoff goals list with his 66th, breaking a tie with Jaromir Jagr. Crosby is 10 shy of Mario Lemieux for the most in franchise history. … Carlson is 36th defenseman in history and third active with 10-plus power-play points in the playoffs. No defenseman has reached 11 power-play points in the postseason since Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar in 2009. … Oleksiak’s goal was his first point in 11 playoff games.
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