Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Brooks Orpik #44 of the Washington Capitals collide in the second period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
This was about setting the tone for their Eastern Conference semifinal, what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan calls putting their best game on the ice.
The plan for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals was simply to play hard and to compete, then react and respond.
The Penguins did just that in their 3-2 victory over the Capitals Thursday night at Verizon Center, thanks to the impact of Patric Hornqvist.
After sluggish first periods in the first-round series against Columbus, Sullivan shifted his starting lineup to get more aggressive.
Sullivan stayed with a move he made midway through Game 5 against the Blue Jackets, playing Hornqvist on the right wing of Sidney Crosby in place of Conor Sheary, and it paid off with two goals in the first 1 minute, 4 seconds of the second period.
“You know how he plays and the energy he brings,” Crosby said of Hornqvist. “This time of year, with how physical he is and how hard he goes to the net, he's going to create something, whether it's for himself or somebody else. He had some chances. He had some great passes. He's physical. He plays with a ton of intensity and a ton of energy. He's a big part of our team. It's important to have guys like that that can create so much different ways.”
Not only do the Penguins have a healthy respect for Hornqvist's hard-nosed play, but so do the Capitals — especially for his willingness to do the dirty work.
Hornqvist played for Capitals coach Barry Trotz in Nashville, who admired his tenacity to play net-front, and goalie Braden Holtby went as far as to say that if he was a forward he would play the game in the same fashion as Hornqvist.
The move paid off for the Penguins, as Hornqvist did what he does best: He played hard, competed and was disruptive in the crease. In the opening period, Hornqvist redirected one shot off the shoulder of Holtby and whacked away at another loose puck in front of Holtby. In the second period, Hornqvist helped set up two goals in two shifts in the first 1:04.
“I think it was our mindset going into this game,” Hornqvist said. “We were all over them in the first 10 minutes. Then, obviously, in the second period, we got those two goals. …
“We just have to keep playing fast.”
Hornqvist created enough havoc to assist on Crosby's two second-period goals. The first he fed to left wing Jake Guentzel on an odd-man rush that saw the Penguins rookie slide a pass to Crosby for a one-timer and 1-0 lead only 12 seconds into the period.
The second, only 52 seconds later, was all Hornqvist. After Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta's shot was fumbled by Holtby, Hornqvist nudged the puck toward Crosby, who finished it for a 2-0 lead.
“That's how the goals are going to be there,” Hornqvist said.
If the scoring sounds like vintage Crosby against the Capitals, it was.
Although his 17 points, including 10 goals, in 14 playoff games against Washington appear impressive, Crosby did most of the damage in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal. The Penguins captain had eight goals and 13 points in that seven-game series, and only two assists in the six-game series against the Capitals last year.
Although Crosby scored three points in Game 2 against Columbus, he finished the series with two goals and seven points. The Sid and Kids line with Guentzel and Sheary wasn't as productive in that series as it was in their final 14 regular-season games, when they accounted for 24 goals and 54 points.
“Sid always brings a lot of things to the table, even if he doesn't score,” Hornqvist said. “Every night, he brings a lot of energy and a lot of confidence to this group.”
That confidence is missing from Sheary, who was demoted to the third line with Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson and was minus-1 in 12:21 of ice time before being benched. Bonino played the hero, scoring the winner, and the Penguins protected the space around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the final minutes.
It was a furious finish, bettered only by a strong start that had Hornqvist's signature all over it.