PITTSBURGH’S Nick Bonino scored 6:32 into overtime to give the Penguins a 4-3 win over Washington on Tuesday, clinching the hotly contested NHL Eastern Conference semi-final in six games and eliminating the team which had been the Stanley Cup title favourite.
The Capitals rallied from a three-goal deficit over the final 22 minutes of regulation, but Bonino’s second goal of the playoffs sent the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay.
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby made the initial stop on Carl Hagelin’s shot but Bonino, camped right outside the crease, tapped in the winner.
Washington forward Jay Beagle made a remarkable save with his belly in front of the net on Patric Hornqvist’s shot early in overtime but there was no stopping Bonino’s tap-in.
Phil Kessel scored twice for Pittsburgh and Hagelin added a goal for Pittsburgh while rookie Matt Murray made 36 saves.
T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and John Carlson scored during Washington’s comeback, but it wasn’t enough.
Nine times the longtime rivals have met in the playoffs. Eight times the post-series handshake line has ended with Pittsburgh celebrating while Washington trudges toward the off-season.
Pittsburgh squandered 3-1 series leads in the 2011 and 2014 playoffs and it seemed that history might repeat when Washington won Game 5 in this series to cut the deficit to 3-2, but this time the Penguins held firm.
Pittsburgh ended the regular season as the hottest team in the league and has now cruised through two rounds of playoffs by relying on the depth that has been cultivated behind stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
All but two of Pittsburgh’s 15 goals during the series were scored by players who were not on the roster two summers ago. That group includes Kessel, acquired from Toronto last July to take some of the scoring load off Pittsburgh’s two franchise cornerstones, plus Hagelin and Bonino, who were Pittsburgh’s best line in the series.
Kessel gave the Penguins the lead 5:41 into the first with a wrist shot that whizzed by Holtby’s blocker for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Penguins then dominated much of the next 20 minutes with nothing to show for it until Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik, returning from a three-game suspension, drew a double minor penalty for high-sticking Patric Hornqvist.
Kessel made it 2-0 by faking a shot from the circle then decking past a sprawled Holtby 7:05 into the second. Hagelin pushed Pittsburgh’s lead to three 33 seconds later by deflecting Maatta’s shot from the point.
Giving Pittsburgh’s lethargic power play — which came in 1 for 16 in the series — the jolt it needed to seemingly send the Capitals home once again.
Oshie’s powerplay goal with 1:30 left in the second gave the Capitals a chance, but seemingly not much. The Penguins came in 44-0 when leading after two periods, but looked shaky in this one. Williams put in a wraparound past Murray 7:23 into the third. Carlson’s fifth playoff goal, a shot that bounced and skipped by Murray during a 5-on-3 power play tied the game with 6:59 to play.