Pittsburgh | For 56 consecutive minutes of Game 3 Wednesday night, it was as if the Washington Capitals were playing without blades on their sticks.
Passes were missed.
Pucks were turned over.
Shots were whiffed.
Sticks were broken.
The Caps’ first offensive power outage - in terms of both shots and scoring opportunities - of the postseason came close to costing them in regulation and wasting another sensational performance by goalie Simeon Varlamov.
Nicklas Backstrom’s first goal of the playoffs forced overtime with less than two minutes left in regulation, but in the extra session, the Caps generated only five shots and lost 3-2 on Kris Letang’s deflected slap shot.
“We dumped the puck in tonight but we didn’t forecheck, and that led to a lot of problems, especially in the second period,” center David Steckel said.
The Caps’ 18 shots through three periods were their lowest of the playoffs and their final total of 23 shots was their third-lowest in 10 playoff games.
“We can’t play like this, especially when we’re away,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We didn’t play our game tonight. We got a lucky goal to score first, and after that … we stopped playing.”
Washington scored on its first shot when Mike Green’s dump-in took a crazy bounce and Ovechkin slammed it into the empty net from the slot, but that was it until a power play produced Backstrom’s goal from the side of the goal.
The second period was particularly gory - the Caps were outshot 15-4.
“We turned the puck over in our own end, and that led to too much time in our zone and then we were too tired to forecheck,” Steckel said.
Said center Sergei Fedorov: “Some turnovers played a role in the second because our [defensemen] couldn’t change. We didn’t have any chance to put pressure on them whatsoever.”
Fedorov missed most of the second period with an apparent rib injury, forcing coach Bruce Boudreau to scramble his lines, including a reunion of Backstrom centering Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
“I think I told them after the second period that we were playing not to lose rather than to win,” Boudreau said. “That’s just what it looked like because we were getting the puck in but we weren’t forechecking. We were just sitting back and letting them come back at us.”
Fedorov returned in the third period on a line with Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann, and the offense got going, albeit with just six shots.
“We turned the puck over in the second; in the third we got pucks deep, and when we got our forecheck going, we had some success,” Steckel said.
The Caps’ offense was derailed by six consecutive penalties, which meant penalty killers such as Steckel (20:42) and Brooks Laich (20:34) played almost as much as Ovechkin (23:44).
On one of those chances, Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead with 4:59 left in regulation.
“You can’t keep giving that team power plays, and they made us pay in the third,” Steckel said. “Anytime you have to kill that many penalties, you’re going to take your lumps.”
The Caps killed a penalty in overtime but were unable to get a power play of their own to take a 3-0 series lead. Ovechkin had the best chance flying down the right side, but the puck slipped off his stick.
“They played better than us,” Ovechkin said. “Everybody saw it.”