- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2017

Following Thursday’s loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby vowed he had to be better. In Game 1, Holtby allowed three goals on only 21 shots.

By the start of the third period in Game 2 on Saturday, Holtby was benched and the Capitals fell 6-2 at the Verizon Center.

They now face a 2-0 deficit as the series heads back to Pittsburgh.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz replaced Holtby with Philipp Grubauer because of a disastrous second period performance. The Penguins scored three goals, including a shorthanded attempt, after being vastly outplayed in the first period.

Holtby finished the night with 11 saves on only 14 shots.

“I thought some of the goals, [Holtby] wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us,” Trotz said. “He’s a game-changer for us and so when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo there a little bit, that’s all.”

This time, the Capitals’ downfall started with a shorthanded goal. Penguins center Matt Cullen stole the puck from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and scored on a breakaway. Shattenkirk also also misplayed a late breakaway near the end of Game 1, which resulted in Nick Bonino scoring the game-winning goal.

The Capitals, however, weren’t out of it as defenseman Matt Niskanen answered back with a power play goal less than a minute later at 2:09 into the period.

Washington blew the game because of how poorly they played in transition. With 6:56 left in the second, Penguins star Sidney Crosby drew three defenders and passed it to a wide open Phil Kessel, who scored. Crosby previously blocked a shot on the other end, only to race down and get the puck.

The Penguins added a third goal when rookie Jake Guentzel kept the puck on a 2-on-1 and scored from the left side.

“Yeah, obviously, it’s never where you want to be,” Holtby said of his benching. “But the playoffs are made of big moments. That third goal – that’s a big moment. That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t.”

For the second game in a row, the Capitals fell apart in the second. Crosby also scored two goals in 52 seconds to put the Capitals down 2-0 at the start of the second in Game 1.

Prior to Game 2, Trotz slammed his fist down on the podium and declared that starting Saturday, Washington had to be the better team. He noted it wasn’t on him to get a full 60-minute effort from his players — his players had to.

“When you go into the playoffs and you’re playing a championship caliber team, you’ve got to be the better team. Plain and simple,” Trotz said.

Instead of 60 minutes of effort, the Capitals only got 20.

In the first period, the Capitals picked up from where they left off at the end of the third period in Game 1. Ten minutes into the game, Washington had eight shots on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury while only allowing the Penguins to get one shot on goal.

By the end of the first, the gap was even greater — with the Capitals leading 35-8 in shot attempts and 16-5 in shots on goal.

Washington even got on the power play twice in the period, something they had failed to do even once in Game 1. Both attempts were unsuccessful, but the Capitals were able to maintain pressure.

The Capitals, though, were never able to capitalize on their many chances while Pittsburgh made the most of theirs.

“We played a hell of a first period,” Niskanen said. “I think we can see our path to success. We played really, really well in the first period. We just didn’t get rewarded. .. I think we can see a couple areas where we’re having success and a couple areas where we could potentially get in trouble.

“We’ll try to correct them and get ready for Game 3.”

Grubauer, meanwhile, wasn’t much better.

He allowed two goals in the third period. Kessel scored his second goal of the game only 2:19 into the period. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin made it 5-2 with 14:29 left.

Guentzel also had an empty netter with 42.6 seconds left to make it 6-2. It was his second goal of the game.

Grubauer, though, wasn’t the only lineup change the Capitals made in Game 2. Trotz announced a change to his fourth line before the game.

Paul Carey, who had appeared in only six regular season games, was active over a struggling Brett Connolly. Connolly saw his playoff minutes drastically reduced after Game 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, playing just 6:07 in Game 1.

The Penguins also made a major lineup change with forward Carl Hagelin returning from a lower-body injury. Hagelin saw his first action since March 10 and re-joined Pittsburgh’s third line.

Washington scored its only other goal of the game when center Nicklas Backstrom cut the lead 4-2 with 16:16 left in the game.

The Capitals had a lengthy meeting in the locker room following the game and Backstrom addressed the room. However, players didn’t want to reveal the message of the discussion.

“We know we have better in this locker room,” Holtby said. “We’re not giving up or getting frustrated. The goal is to win four out of seven and it really doesn’t matter how you do that. So now it’s about breaking every single game down, focusing on the moment, living in the moment. Not worrying about the statistics or the standings in the series.

“It’s not about that. It’s about Game 3. It’s about focusing on that first play and moving on from there.”

The series returns to Pittsburgh with Game 3 on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

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