Nicklas Backstrom

Leafs shock Sabres; Capitals earn shootout win

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might actually receive a few nice questions from Lance Brown this weekend – or at least a Christmas card from the Washington Capitals next year.

A game after inspiring sarcastic Blue Jays chants, the Maple Leafs won their first game in Toronto since Feb. 6 – and it was a big blow to the Buffalo Sabres. A late goal made things awfully interesting but the Sabres lost 4-3 in regulation, thus locking them up in ninth place regardless of the Capitals’ actions.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Capitals came through during Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup by winning a 3-2 shootout against the Montreal Canadiens. This gives the Caps a two-point lead for the East’s final spot while both teams have three games left.

Considering the fact that Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, it really means the Sabres might have to make up a three-point gap for the eighth seed.

Chasing the Cats

With that in mind, the Capitals might even switch their sights from the Sabres and the eighth seed to the Florida Panthers and the Southeast Division title/third spot. Florida’s buffer has been reduced to two points and although it has a game in hand, the Capitals hold the tiebreaker advantage there as well and the two teams meet in Washington on Thursday.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for a Capitals team that was one of the league leaders in disappointments and negative press this season.

Backstrom’s return

Capitals fans were elated to see Nicklas Backstrom return, so here’s a quick look at what he did tonight:

Backstrom: zero points, two shots on goal, 12-6 in faceoffs and a -1 rating in 19:40 minutes.

Even with overtime in mind, Backstrom skating for almost 20 minutes might be the best sign for Washington. If he can get up to speed, the Capitals could actually be dangerous – whatever playoff spot they gain.

You know, if they make it that far (which is a much smaller “if” after today).

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.