The Pittsburgh Penguins moved on to the second round of the playoffs on Thursday. The first game of the series was played in Washington against the Capitals Thursday night, where the Penguins fell to the Capitals in a brutal OT 4-3 loss.
Bumps and Bruises
The loss wasn’t the prettiest game the Penguins have played this season, but it probably could have been a lot worse. Rookie goaltender Matt Murray allowed a few “soft” goals that maybe shouldn’t have gone in, and the defense contributed to a few mistakes that didn’t help either, but overall the Pittsburgh club did manage to push the game into OT.
Of course, OT in the playoffs doesn’t really mean anything if the team can’t pull out a win at the end of it. The Penguins couldn’t, but all hope isn’t lost yet. The bigger issue at the end of the game wasn’t the fact that the Penguins lost, but rather the (at times overly) physical aspect of the game that is more a concern.
More specifically, Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s penchant for unnecessary hits should be a concern for Pittsburgh.
Wilson’s worst offense on Thursday night was without a doubt this knee-on-knee hit on Conor Sheary.
no penalty called pic.twitter.com/sW9Us9Ww4j
— Stephanie (@myregularface) April 29, 2016
Sheary didn’t leave the game, despite how hard he went down and the amount of discomfort he looked to be in, but Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghsports.com tweeted this following the game:
Sheary was limping pretty noticeably after the game. But the fact that he could finish the game is a good sign, I suppose.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) April 29, 2016
Sheary then didn’t participate in the optional practice the Penguins held Friday afternoon, either.
Friday afternoon, it was announced that Wilson would be fined for the incident but would not be suspended. It wasn’t surprising, especially since Sheary finished the game and was seemingly not seriously injured, but it doesn’t change the fact that Wilson deserved a suspension for the hit. But, he deserved a penalty when it happened too, and that didn’t happen either.
Sheary wasn’t the only one who suffered. Matt Cullen was boarded by Andre Burakovsky, Evgeni Malkin got tied up with Wilson, and Chris Kunitz got hit by a puck from the bench and went to the locker room, bleeding and holding a towel up to his head. Head coach Mike Sullivan described Kunitz as day-to-day after practice on Friday.
Aside from these bumps and bruises, it doesn’t seem like the team suffered anything too severe Thursday night. But it does mean that the Penguins will have to keep their heads up for this series. Game 1 got pretty physical, and there’s no doubt that the rest of the series will be as well.
What’s next for Pittsburgh
The best things the Penguins could do after the less-than-stellar Game 1 performance would be to forget about it completely and concentrate on the next game.
In the past, the Penguins’ worst trait would be getting too emotional in high-stakes games. Heightened emotions would lead to reckless plays and too many penalties taken, and then you could almost guarantee that you would get to watch the Penguins unravel before your very eyes (see also: the Penguins’ disastrous 2012 playoff performance against the Flyers).
This team doesn’t have the same feel.
Emotions aside, head coach Sullivan is confident that his team will rectify any and all mistakes made in Thursday night’s game. After practice on Friday, Sullivan said, “These guys are good players, and we trust that our elite guys are going to make the right plays. We also understand that there’s inherent risk in playmaking.”
This year’s Pittsburgh Penguins have the feel that they can come back from just about anything — after all, there’s a reason their catchphrase this year seems to be “resilient.” But despite that, there’s also a feeling that if Pittsburgh can’t come out of Washington with a win tonight, the rest of the series will be extremely difficult. The pressure is on for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Game 2 starts at 8 p.m. tonight, and then the Penguins return home to Pittsburgh for games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday respectively.