PITTSBURGH | It was almost impossible to hear inside Consol Energy Center every time the Pittsburgh Penguins sent the puck flying down the ice on the Washington Capitals’ four-minute power play Tuesday night.
“The fans were tremendous in that sequence,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “They were as loud as they’ve been.”
That’s hard to argue. The roars built to a crescendo when Pittsburgh put together a three-on-two rush and defenseman Matt Niskanen blasted one by Braden Holtby for what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the Penguins’ 2-1 victory over the Caps.
“The penalty kill did an amazing job of stepping up to the challenge and we created a lot of energy and some momentum from that. You could feel the crowd getting into it, able to go on a rush there and finish and get the win,” Niskanen said. “They’re more excited for the PK than for my goal, I think. That’s OK.”
The goal was the climax of all the momentum the Penguins’ penalty kill built up over four minutes. The Caps managed just two shots as Pittsburgh upped the pressure and got sticks in passing lanes.
“They were throwing the press on us pretty good,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. “Their goalie makes a big stop and their guys are diving around.”
It was Pittsburgh’s 15th successful penalty kill in 17 chances over the past six games. Bylsma was pleased with the kill all night, but this one was special.
Special because in killing off Matt Cooke’s double minor, the Penguins were already without one of their top guys in that situation and relied on just about everyone else. Eleven different skaters played on this kill, something that was done by design.
“The technical part is the same, but with four minutes you’re going to get a few more guys involved into the penalty kill: You’re going to try to be shorter on your shift length, both on the forwards and the defense,” Bylsma said. “You try to roll them over, you try to stay short, you try to stay fresh. And I think we did that. It allowed us to be aggressive in a lot of situations.”
Alex Ovechkin had a shot on goal, and so did Eric Fehr. Two more Ovechkin attempts were blocked before they got to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
“They did a pretty good job keeping us to the outside. Obviously that was part of their game plan,” Fehr said. “We just passed it around maybe trying to get a little bit too fancy. We’ve got to find a way to just have some more shots and have some traffic. They did a good job boxing out in front. I think Fleury was seeing a lot of pucks.”
What Fleury saw, he stopped. As the Penguins rolled through several penalty-killing combinations, they kept clearing the zone and getting out of trouble.
“Our penalty kill did a great job,” said Crosby, who played 1:10 during the kill. “Flower made a few saves throughout that one, and it seemed like we really had momentum there once we killed it.”
The momentum had shifted entirely to the Penguins, who took advantage of Joel Ward’s turnover and went quickly the other way. Crosby to Cooke to Niskanen and the building exploded.
“The timing was perfect with when Cookie came out of the box,” Crosby said. “I think their power play was a bit tired, too, there at the end of their shift. It worked out pretty well. You could see our kill as it kept going we just seemed to get more and more momentum. The building was pretty loud and I felt that we fed off that. That’s a big play in the game.”
It was the 4 minutes and 9 seconds that decided the game and extended the Penguins’ winning streak to 10.
“We’re always going to give ourselves a chance if you’re committed to [defense],” Niskanen said. “We’re finding ways to win, getting good goaltending and hockey’s pretty darn fun right now.”