Patric Hornqvist celebrates his game-winning goal. (Kevin Lorenzi/The Times)
A look back at the first three games of the series between the Penguins and Capitals would reveal different moments in which each team held the upper hand. That changed during the first three periods of Game 4, where they played to a tie in almost every way.
Each team seemed to have a number of prime scoring chances, but their shot totals remained nearly identical, with the Penguins rolling up 31 and the Capitals 34. The Penguins outhit the Capitals for the first time in this series, but by only five, and the game, tied at 2-2, had the feel of one that might rival the epic four-overtime affair between the two rivals back in 1996.
Then came overtime.
The Penguins must have slurped down a bit more water, or had a few protein bars, because the teeter-totter that looked like a level piece of wood all night tipped in their direction.
“They're going to get their time in our offensive zone and we're going to get our time, too,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “What I liked about our game tonight was we got a real solid effort throughout our lineup, from the forward position on back.”
Whereas the Penguins played it a bit safe at times during the third period, they started to put the pedal to the floor and spent most of the overtime period in the Capitals' zone. As a result, the period lasted only 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
Unlike Game 1 at the Verizon Center, when the Capitals controlled overtime and won 4-3, the Penguins ramped up their attack and kept pucks heading toward goaltender Braden Holtby.
“I think obviously our last game wasn’t good at all,” forward Patric Hornqvist said. “We have to be better in that area, and I think we improved a lot. Our defense played a lot of hard minutes and they have a good forecheck, so we have to make sure we get the puck out quick and take it to the net as quick as we can, and then play below the circles. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Holtby might have faced only two shots, but quick puck movement left him struggling to get from his right to his left, and he had no chance to stop Hornqvist’s game-winning shot.
It was the kind of game that the Penguins have played since Mike Sullivan arrived. They bent at times but they never broke, and they showed the resolve of a team that is just getting started in these playoffs.
That resolve has the Capitals, the regular-season champions, at the brink of elimination -- something the Penguins can accomplish Saturday night.
“That’s a big win,” Hornqvist said. “Now we have to stick with it. We haven’t done anything yet. We have to play better if we’re going to win next game, and obviously the next game is going to be the hardest to win. We have to make sure we do the right things out there and play even better that we did tonight.”