(The Sports Xchange) - Patric Hornqvist scored 2:34 into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins seized a 3-1 series lead over the NHL regular season champion Washington Capitals, winning 3-2 in Game Four of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Wednesday.
“It’s huge, obviously — 3-1 is a lot more desirable than 2-2,” said Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray, who made 34 saves. “But we know we’ve got a lot of work left to do. We know nothing’s done.”
The Penguins, winners of 21-of-25 dating back to the regular season, had lost eight consecutive overtime playoff games until Capitals defenseman Mike Weber accidentally tapped the puck on Hornqvist’s stick for a wrist shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby through his legs.
“It was obviously great to see the puck go in, we win the game and we’re up 3-1,” Hornqvist said. “I tried to shoot it as hard as I could.”
Pittsburgh-native Weber, back in the lineup for the first time since the opening-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, was trying to get the puck out when it flew directly to Hornqvist in the right circle for his fifth goal of the playoffs and first playoff overtime winner.
“It’s what probably any defenseman would have done in that situation — the puck’s rolling around and you’re trying to poke it out of the danger zone,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said.
“It just so happens the guy (Hornqvist) is flying in there.”
Murray withstood a Capitals goal by center Jay Beagle less than three minutes into the game to win for the 13th time in his last 14 starts — and the Penguins withstood the loss of star defenseman Kris Letang to a one-game suspension.
“We didn’t take advantage of it (Letang’s absence),” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Now we’ve dug ourselves a hole. We’ll see if we can dig ourselves out.”
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who did not score despite getting seven shots on net, said the Capitals know a comeback from a 3-1 deficit can be achieved — the New York Rangers accomplished it against them last season.
“We’ve got to play our game. We got to go period by period and try to turn it around, win the next game,” Ovechkin said.
The Penguins, who lost 3-1 series leads to Tampa Bay in 2011 and the Rangers in 2014, have won seven of eight previous playoff series from the Capitals.
But this was supposed to be the best Capitals team ever — they put up 120 points during an NHL season in which no other team managed even 110. But now, the Capitals must win three straight against a surging opponent to keep their season going.
“It’s not the best place to be,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. “But we’re proud of our game and, at some point, we’ve got to dig deeper and work harder and find a way, no matter what.”
All four games in the series have been decided by one goal and Game Five could be another close one in Washington on Saturday.
Editing by John O'Brien