NHL Round Two Playoffs Preview: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

In Game 2, the superstars of the Pittsburgh Penguins came through and were able to wrestle away home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals, despite having a short-handed defense corps.

The Penguins will want to take Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday night in Pittsburgh, the first on home ice, despite not having one of their top D-men in Olli Maatta who suffered a blow to the head by Brooks Orpik in Game 2.

But in what may be justice that the league doles out, the Capitals might also be missing one of their top defensemen with Orpik facing a possible suspension for his hit on Maatta.

In Game 1, it was almost impossible for Pittsburgh to stop the antics of T.J. Oshie who got a hat trick in their 4-3 overtime loss on Thursday night. But the resiliant Pen bounced back by suffocating almost all of the Capitals’ offensive roster in their a 2-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday. The Pens allowed just the one goal when they were short-handed during Washington’s 14-shot third period barage. That solid defense allowed Eric Fehr to score the winner against his x-team with just a four minites and change to go.

Pittsburgh kept the Caps to 10 shots over the first two periods even though they lost Maatta only five minutes into the game. Orpik almost knocked out his former teammate out with a high hit to the head, his elbow connecting with Maatta’s chin.

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit that everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game. That’s how I saw it.”

Not a surprise that Washington coach Barry Trotz didn’t think so.

“(Orpik) just finished on a hit,” Trotz said. ”There’s a little size difference, and I think Maatta was leaning over a little bit. We’ll let the league handle it.”

Orpik had a hearing yesterday with the NHL’s department of player safety, and they’ll announce their decision most likely before game time tonight.

The Penguins are in the hunt for their third win in four home games in this year’s playoffs, and fourth in five overall matchups against Washington. Pittsburgh started that winning stretch with a 6-2 beating handed out on March 20 that put an end to their three-game home losing streak against the Caps. Pens goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury was in net for Pittsburgh in that win, but will probably saty out of the blue paint due to a concussion. That means 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray could get his sixth consecutive start. And so far he has looked stellar in net. He’s 4-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average over that period.

“I thought Matt was real solid (in Game 2). It was a challenging game in that he didn’t see a lot of shots early then in the third period obviously they pressed and he saw significantly some more action,” Sullivan said. “I thought his focus was really good. When we needed him to be good down the stretch, he made that timely save for us.”

For Washington, Braden Holtby will be in net and his team will try to give him a better chance at winning by shutting down Pittsburgh’s effective shot production. The Pens have a total 80 shots on net in their two games played in this series, and had 38 shots blocked.

That solid offense mixed in with defensive prowess got Holtby to give up five goals to Pittsburgh, after only giving up five goals in his six games against Philadelphia in the opening round. They know what buttons to push, and the Penguins might have had even more if the Caps hadn’t stopped all five power-play chances on Saturday. That gives Washington a record of 30 of 31 on the penalty kill this postseason, which is killer if a team decides to rely on their special teams.

“We know we can play better. We have had periods but not 60-minute games. We can’t give a team like that as much time and space,” Holtby said. “It will be a good thing to get on the road and play a more simple style. It seems like the road kind of does that to you. It will be good for us.”

Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist are also playing well, having scored each of their three goals in this postseason on home ice. Kessel and Sidney Crosby both have a team-high five points in those three games at home.

Capitals star and captain Alex Ovechkin has just one assist in his last seven games against the Penguins and that includes the playoffs. He has only two points in his last five games in Pittsburgh so he will have to change that fast. Nicklas Backstrom also has no points in his last four matchups so he will have to fire up his guns as well.

“The ultimate goal is to win and we all have that in mind,” Crosby told local media pre-game. “We know taking that hit or taking that punch is going to go a long way.” Expect a few punches and hard hits thrown tonight.

Our Pick: Pens over Caps, 3-1