Take away a couple of soft goals allowed by Matt Murray in Game 1, and the Pittsburgh Penguins would probably be heading home with a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Washington Capitals.
And if Mike Richards had been able to shoot into an open net with six minutes left in the third period of Game 2 on Saturday night, the Caps would likely be heading to Consol Energy Center with a two-game lead over the Pens. It could be either way right now. Instead, it's 1-1 after Pittsburgh's 2-1 win at Verizon Center.
But the series doesn't feel even. It feels like it's Pittsburgh's to lose after two games in which they largely dominated play. The disparity was much wider in Game 2 than it was in Game 1.
Washington had better find a way to get more scoring chances on Murray and the suddenly stifling Penguins defense, or this might be a short series. Maybe that's a bit unfair; Washington did outplay Pittsburgh for most of the third period, outshooting the Penguins 14-7, and had a glorious chance to take the lead when Jason Chimera set up Richards alone in front. Richards, though, missed wide left.
But Pittsburgh was so dominant with its puck possession in the first two periods that Caps fans gave Alex Ovechkin a Bronx cheer when he managed to get a token shot on net late in the second. Pittsburgh outshot Washington 28-10 in the first 40 minutes but had only a 1-0 lead thanks to the great goaltending of Braden Holtby.
Washington tied it at the 4:08 mark on Marcus Johansson's tap-in and had some other chances after that—most especially Richards'. But with 4:28 left, Evgeni Malkin finished a great shift when, after lifting the stick of Ovechkin to steal the puck and keep it in the Caps zone, he threw a pass in front of the net that former Cap Eric Fehr redirected past Holtby.
Fehr outmuscled Washington defenseman and former Pen Brooks Orpik to get to the puck first, capping a bad night for Orpik that will likely include him being suspended for at least Game 3.
Orpik, no stranger to controversial hits in his days with Pittsburgh, leveled Pens defenseman Olli Maatta in the first period with an elbow to the head that resulted in a two-minute minor. According to NBC analyst Mike Milbury, there will be "no justice" if Orpik isn't suspended.
It can't be proved empirically, but the NHL is much more likely to suspend a player when the victim is injured, and that was the case with Maatta. He did not return to the game, looking groggy after the hit, and his status for Game 3 is up in the air.
How many games should Orpik get? One playoff game equals three regular-season games in my book, so I'll say Orpik gets two games. Orpik clearly hit him late, after the puck left Maatta's stick and made principal contact with the head. Yeah, Maatta had his head down slightly, and this is hockey, not tiddlywinks. But it's a hit worthy of supplemental discipline, for sure.
Pittsburgh has outshot Washington 80-59 through two games. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang's six shots on goal were two more than any Caps forward had. Letang, by the way, was brilliant even though his third-period penalty (a dubious call) led to Johansson's goal. And he was on the ice for 35:22—8½ minutes more than any other player.
Washington has had a hard time entering the Pittsburgh zone with any kind of comfort. Ovechkin, held to just an assist so far in the series, had three shots on net Saturday. The Caps still have Holtby, though. He was great, the only reason the game wasn't a blowout entering the third.
Murray redeemed himself too, however, making some tremendous stops, including this one at the end:
The way the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals come out in Game 3 will be closely watched. They're even so far, but home-ice advantage has shifted to the Penguins. It's time to see what Washington is made of. If the Caps don't get better, history will record that they weren't made of the right stuff—again—to win the Stanley Cup.
Lightning Defense Stifles Islanders to Even Series
It was a crushingly boring game. But what wasn't fun for the nonpartisan viewer was just fine for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who got even in their best-of-seven series with a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop allowed four goals on 13 shots before he was yanked in Game 1, but he was back to his usual self in Game 2, though he could have played much of the final two periods in a hammock. The Islanders put eight—count 'em, eight—shots on net in the final two periods.
Tyler Johnson scored twice for the Lightning, including an empty-netter. Jonathan Drouin, whose future with the team appeared over following an in-house suspension for failing to report for minor league duty in January, also scored. It was a beauty too, a backhander that got past Thomas Greiss after Drouin had shifted by Nikolay Kulemin, Steve Bernier and Travis Hamonic off the rush at 11:55 of the first period. It proved to be the game-winner.
Things were still manageable for the Islanders by the midpoint of the second period. They had outshot the Lightning 15-8 to that point. But the game swung irrevocably back in Tampa Bay's favor after New York's Cal Clutterbuck was called for interference on Bishop at 11:11.
Less than a minute later, Victor Hedman was credited with a power-play goal when his shot from the point deflected in off the skate of Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan. New York did next to nothing offensively the rest of the way.
Still, the Islanders are going home now, with two full days of rest before Game 3 on Tuesday. They did what they wanted, which was to get a split in Tampa. Captain John Tavares, who had a quiet day with no points on three shots, told the New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis that his team needs to rise to the escalating intensity:
"The series keeps picking up, and the more you battle against one another, the blood starts to boil. There is going to be guys fighting hard, and it's part it. So we're just going to focus on being better."
Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.