Matt Murray stole a win for the Penguins tonight, and every player in the home dressing room knew it.
Just look at the shot attempt charts from Game 1 through 3, and it’s easy to see why coach Mike Sullivan came across as fairly sour in his postgame press conference, despite being the guy in charge of the winning team. (The colors in the charts are based on home and away, not Capitals’ blue and Penguins’ black, by the way. This frequently confuses people.)
Sullivan recognizes the importance of possession in determining long-term success. His post-game opening remarks made that clear:
“The disparity in shots was because they had the puck all night, and we didn’t,” Sullivan said. “That’s an area where, in the first two games, we felt as though we had the puck for long stretches of the game. Tonight was a different story. I thought they beat us to loose pucks. They won puck battles. They outplayed us in a lot of aspects of the game. I thought the scoring chances that we got, we were very opportunistic. They were high-quality chances, and we were able to finish on them.”
He later added: “When our team is at its best, our defense starts 190 feet from our net with our puck pursuit, hanging onto pucks down low in the offensive zone, controlling territory, and using our foot speed to our advantage. I didn’t think we were able to do that tonight.”
Washington coach Barry Trotz harped on the disconnect between the game’s events and outcome, too.
“I thought our first period was really good,” Trotz said. “They got two goals. One was a fortunate goal, in the sense that it went off their guy, our guy and then it goes on net. The first goal, we can prevent that. That was just a little bit of a missed detail by us.
“But the rest of the game, I thought Murray was really good in the first. I thought he was good all game. There was no question he was the reason that they had success. Our game reminded me a lot of our Game 3 in the Island last year. It took us a couple games to find our game, and once we found our game, I thought we were good. I got a little bit of the same feeling.”
(In the first round last season, the Capitals lost to the Islanders 2-1 in overtime in Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in the series. They won three of the next four to advance in seven games.)
We’ve seen the Penguins and Capitals stay even with each other, as well as each team dominate possession. All signs point to this series dragging on for a few more games, but if tonight proved anything, it’s that hockey and unpredictability enjoy each other’s company.