- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin tried his best earlier in the week to downplay his rivalry against Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby before the two met in another second round series.

“Right now it’s not about me and him. It’s about Caps and Penguins,” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin may be right, but in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Crosby asserted his dominance over the Capitals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at the Verizon Center.

All he needed was 52 seconds. 

Crosby scored two goals in less than a minute at the start of the second period.

But like last year, the Penguins were able to win because of their depth.

Penguins center Nick Bonino, who plays on the third line, scored the winning goal with 7:24 left after the Capitals erased a 2-0 deficit.

“Obviously the first two minutes of the second, that’s what went wrong,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We just mismanaged the puck at that point. … The first two minutes, puck management, lost battles, down 2-0.”

The Capitals stormed back behind Ovechkin and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ovechkin scored with 1:52 left in the second period and Kuznetsov tied the game in the third. 

Washington had to claw its way back after Crosby’s stunning strikes early in the second. 

The first goal was the result of a Capitals turnover in the neutral zone, resulting in a 2-on-1 that gave Crosby enough room to score only 12 seconds in the second. Before the Capitals had time to blink, Crosby converted another puck directly off goaltender Braden Holtby’s backside at 1:04 into the period.

“We got one early there and didn’t have too long a shift, so we came off and then when we got out there again, we were able to get another chance and put it in,” Crosby said. “So that’s how it goes sometimes. You don’t get some for a while and then they come in bunches.”

This is the second consecutive year the Penguins-Capitals have met in the playoffs. Last year, Pittsburgh eliminated Washington, 4-2. 

For a series players said they had waited all year for, the Capitals got off to a slow start. 

The Penguins entered the game ranked No. 2 on the power play and Washington had to face it early. Ovechkin was called for an interference penalty on Patric Hornqvist with 16:22 left in the first, but Washington’s penalty kill did its job. 

Washington had only one shot on goal until 5:17 was left in the first period. But the Capitals used the final five minutes to find an offensive spark as they crowded bodies around the net. It blocked Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s vision and the Capitals led the period in shots on goal, 6-4. 

The Capitals spent the last year improving the bottom end of their roster to prepare for teams like the Penguins. They traded for center Lars Eller in the offseason and then acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis at the trade deadline for depth. Trotz said depth was one of the reasons Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last year. 

The Penguins and the Capitals have met 10 times in the playoffs, with three of those coming in the Crosby-Ovechkin era.

Pittsburgh held off a Washington team that outshot them 35-21, in part, because of their defense. 

The Penguins have withstood key injuries this season, including losing star defenseman Kris Letang to a season-ending neck injury. Letang only played in 41 games, but Pittsburgh’s defense adapted to the strengths of their six other defensemen. 

Fleury was also excellent with 33 saves, withstanding a flurry from the Capitals in the final minute.

“We had a really good push in the third,” Trotz said. “We had lots of opportunity. … We did a lot of good things, but we didn’t obviously do enough.”

The No. 1 seeded Capitals again this year ended the regular season with the league’s best record, but were unexpectedly pushed to six games in the first round of the playoffs by a young and pesky Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Five of the six games against the Leafs went to overtime.

The Penguins, meanwhile, took care of the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets, winning their first-round series in five games. 

The Capitals won two and lost two against the Penguins this season, with Pittsburgh’s wins coming in overtime, but the teams haven’t played since January. The last game of the series resulted in an entertaining 8-7 shootout for the Penguins.

Game 2 is set for Saturday at the Verizon Center before the series shifts Monday to Pittsburgh.

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