Despite allowing two late goals to force overtime, the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on the road in Game 3 in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After the Penguins pulled the goaltender, Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz scored inside the last two minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime. The NHL provided a second look at Schultz's game-tying tally:
Following the Penguins' comeback, Capitals fans likely expected the worst based on the franchise's string of recent playoff disappointments. Instead, Kevin Shattenkirk spared Washington another bitter defeat with a goal three minutes, 13 seconds into the extra frame.
Beyond the defeat, the Penguins' concern will focus on their best player. Pittsburgh played all but 5:24 of the game without Sidney Crosby after Matt Niskanen cross-checked him, earning a game misconduct in the process.
Some will argue the punishment wasn't warranted since Crosby had lost his footing and was falling to the ice before Niskanen hit him in the head, thus raising the question of intent. Hockey Graphs' Nick Mercadante countered that Niskanen wasn't exactly beyond reproach based on past behavior: "Reaction or not, Niskanen has a track record of high hands, head shots and cross checks. And he's been going after Crosby all series."
Crosby didn't return to the game after the hit.
Compounding the Penguins' bad luck in the opening period, Nicklas Backstrom gave the Capitals their first lead of the series with a goal at the 13:05 mark. Backstrom's attempted pass to Justin Williams deflected off Marc-Andre Fleury's stick and Penguins defenseman Ian Cole before finding the back of the net.
The NHL shared a replay of the goal:
Crosby's absence loomed large over much of Game 3. The Penguins have no shortage of skilled attackers, but even they struggled without one of the top stars in the world. Pittsburgh tested Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby on multiple occasions but lacked the incisive edge it showed earlier in the series and against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
A little over a minute into the second period, Chris Kunitz appeared to tie the game. Upon further review, though, officials took the goal off the board for goalie interference.
Evgeny Kuznetsov doubled Washington's lead 9:46 into the third period. He feinted Fleury and had an easy goal as he fired the puck into the net over the sprawled-out goaltender.
The Capitals looked free and clear with a two-goal advantage into the final two minutes.
Then Malkin got the Penguins on the board with 1:53 left in the game. Forty-eight seconds later, Schultz tied the game. NHL on NBC spoke for hockey fans everywhere:
Should the Capitals move on to the conference final, Shattenkirk's goal will almost certainly be viewed as the turning point. Whereas past Washington teams might have collapsed in the face of Malkin and Schultz's goals, this year's group reset after regulation and came out with a vital road victory.
Getting a win in Game 3 was imperative for the Capitals to keep their conference final hopes alive. Only four times in Stanley Cup playoff history have teams come back from a 3-0 series deficit, with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 the most recent to do so.
Washington will have a chance to even the series Wednesday night.
The Capitals may be without Niskanen should the NHL Department of Player Safety determine his cross-check of Crosby is worthy of a suspension. Considering the league's emphasis, retroactive action by the player safety department wouldn't be all that surprising.
Crosby's health is the far bigger storyline, especially after the Penguins lost Conor Sheary to friendly fire. Patric Hornqvist inadvertently hit Sheary, knocking him out of the game.
Should Crosby be unavailable or even less than 100 percent over the rest of the series, the Penguins could be in trouble against the suddenly resurgent Capitals.