Karl Alzner takes penalty killing as a challenge. A five-on-three? That’s practically a personal affront.
Alzner, Matt Niskanen and Mike Richards escaped such a predicament on Saturday night, squashing the Philadelphia Flyers’ two-man advantage in the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 victory in Game 2 of the teams’ first-round playoff series.
“It’s kind of the ultimate challenge in hockey for a penalty killer — try to stop a team five-on-three,” Alzner said. “It doesn’t always work out, and [sometimes], you get lucky. They ringed one off the post, off a block, and you just get the bounces. Sometimes, they go your way, and they did so today.”
The Capitals set a tone in Game 1 on Thursday by going 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, including three stops in the first period.
With Jason Chimera sent to the penalty box at 16:06 for cross-checking and John Carlson joining him after being whistled for the same infraction 43 seconds later, Washington sent Alzner, Niskanen and Richards onto the ice to take care of business.
They knew it would be tough. Philadelphia, which took just 19 shots on goal in Game 1, had managed 15 shots on goal when Carlson was sent to the box, and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere tested the Capitals seven seconds after teammate Claude Giroux won a faceoff with a slapper from the blue line.
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Richards blocked Gostisbehere’s next attempt, and Wayne Simmonds finished the sequence with two chances to jam the puck in past goaltender Braden Holtby from the doorstep.
Through it all, the unit — and Holtby — held strong.
“It was big,” said Holtby, who was particularly displeased with his role in setting up Chimera’s penalty after misplaying a puck behind the net. “Whenever that happens and you kind of cause it a little bit, you want to bear down a bit. The guys fought it off in front and the PK, that’s what you do is try and be there in those moments to come through and swing the momentum.”
The Capitals were second in the league on the penalty kill during the season, stopping 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. They were 10-for-13, or 76.9 percent, in killing five-on-three situations.
“We’ve got to stay after them on our penalty kill, too,” Niskanen said. “Don’t give them any momentum, because they’re a dangerous power play.”
Alzner posited that while the five-on-three was important, it may have been the 41 seconds of four-on-three play the Capitals killed off midway through the second period that was more crucial.
Jakub Voracek cut Washington’s lead to 2-1 with a goal at 9:37 of the period, and once the Capitals’ Andre Burakovsky and the Flyers’ Nick Cousins were called for roughing at 8:50, T.J. Oshie joined them in the penalty box at 10:09.
Alzner, Niskanen and Richards were redeployed, and Holtby, who finished with 41 saves, withstood three shots on goal — from Simmonds, Giroux and Brayden Schenn — to help Washington escape.
“It’s almost like it was scripted, where they score a goal and they get a chance to score another one quick,” Alzner said. “It was important for us to really battle hard on that one, and tough timing for that to happen, but we responded well.”
The successes pushed the Capitals’ penalty kill to 8-for-8 in two games, and including their final five regular-season contests, Washington has killed off its last 21 penalties.
“I can’t say enough for the PK guys tonight because they came through again,” Holtby said.