WASHINGTON — Eric Fehr scored the tiebreaking goal against his former team with about 4 1/2 minutes remaining Saturday night, giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals that tied the Eastern Conference second-round playoff series at a game apiece.
Fehr redirected a pass out of a corner from Evgeni Malkin, sending the puck off the right post and past goalie Braden Holtby. Fehr played parts of nine seasons in Washington across two stints before leaving as a free agent last summer to join Pittsburgh.
Carl Hagelin had put Pittsburgh ahead in second period of Game 2, before Marcus Johansson pulled Washington even on a power play with about 16 minutes to go in the third.
The Penguins improved to 43-0 this season, including the playoffs, when leading after two periods. They have not lost two consecutive games in 3 1/2 months — since dropping a pair in overtime against Carolina and Tampa Bay on Jan. 12 and 14.
This time, Pittsburgh recovered quickly from its 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 on Thursday night, and did it in part by again shutting down Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 50 goals this season.
While Penguins star Sidney Crosby didn’t factor in Saturday’s scoring, either, Malkin did provide a spark on the go-ahead goal, and 21-year-old rookie goalie Matt Murray made 23 saves. Holtby had 33 stops.
The tone for the scrappy game was established less than 4 1/2 minutes in, when Washington’s Brooks Orpik leveled Olli Maatta with a high hit, and the Penguins defenseman fell backward, his helmet slamming to the ice. Maatta was helped off and did not return — his total ice time for the game limited to 31 seconds.
Twelve of the game’s first 13 shots on goal were taken by Pittsburgh. The Penguins did not generate much in the way of truly dangerous chances, however, and the Capitals began to look more active at the offensive end in the closing minutes, when Murray blocked a backhand by T.J. Oshie — he of the hat trick in Game 1 — from the top of the crease during a power play.
Hagelin put Pittsburgh ahead at the 7:08 mark of the second period, taking a pretty behind-the-net feed from Nick Bonino after Orpik lost the puck in the corner.
Washington had all of five shots on goal all game to that point — and zero in that period. Washington’s first — courtesy of Ovechkin, naturally — came with barely 5 minutes left in the second and was easily gloved by Murray.
That doesn’t count Jason Chimera’s shot that found the right post and bounced away harmlessly.
The home team — and, of course, the home fans — thought the score was tied with about 2 minutes remaining in the second, when defenseman Nate Schmidt sent a shot in over a prone Murray. Here’s the thing, though: Murray was face-down in his crease because Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov essentially sat on the goalie’s back.
Not only was the goal waived off, but Kuznetsov was sent to the penalty box for goalie interference. Schmidt yelled, “Come on!” Coach Barry Trotz told an official there shouldn’t have been a penalty.
Still, the Capitals managed to shut down Pittsburgh’s power play yet again. Through two games in this series, Washington’s penalty kill is 7 for 7; through eight games in this postseason, it is 30 for 31.
Trotz continued to plead his case to the officials before his players had made it to the bench area for the third period — and not much later, a call went against Pittsburgh, with defenseman Kris Letang sent to the box for tripping.
Sure enough, Washington capitalized on its second power play of the evening to make it 1-all. Johansson’s goal was Washington’s first with an extra man since getting five in Game 3 of the first round against Philadelphia.
Notes: Capitals D Dmitry Orlov missed a game for the first time all season, a healthy scratch one game after a bad blunder led to a Penguins goal. D Taylor Chorney played instead. ... Penguins LW Chris Kunitz played despite bleeding after getting smacked in the left ear by a puck while sitting on the bench during Game 1. ... Crosby and Malkin each played in his 107th career playoff game, equaling Mario Lamieux for second-most in Penguins history.