The NHL's marquee series lived up to its billing in Game 1 on Saturday as the Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in the opening game of their best-of-seven semifinal.
Tomas Fleischmann scored the game-winner early in the third period and the Capitals held on for the win.
Fleischmann fired home the go-ahead-goal at 1:46 of the frame on a pass from Nicklas Backstrom on a 2-on-1 down low.
Rookie Washington goaltender Simeon Varlamov was outstanding, stopping 34 of 36 shots, including a spectacular save on Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby with the game tied 2-2 late in the second period.
On a 2-on-1, forward Chris Kunitz slid the puck across to the Penguins captain, but Varlamov made a diving stop with his stick on the goal-line to rob him.
"Those type of opportunities, you don't want to waste them," Crosby said. "You have an open net like that, you want to take advantage of it. We ended up losing the game 3-2 so you look back and say 'What if?' But as a player you have to forget quickly."
Alex Ovechkin and Dave Steckel scored the other goals for the Capitals. Both Backstrom and Alexander Semin had two assists in the win.
"[The Penguins] are what we thought they were," Washington forward Brooks Laich told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman. "They're a very good hockey team. There were times tonight where they had us on the run, and our goalie made some big saves.
"It's going to be a heck of a series."
Crosby and Mark Eaton scored the Pittsburgh goals.
Lived up to billing
The game lived up to its billing from start to finish as the chances were fairly even. Both goalies had to make big saves to keep the teams close.
Crosby and Ovechkin looked ready to play from the opening puck-drop and featured in the majority of the scoring chances.
But someone who didn't was Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin. He had an assist but was minus-1 for the game.
Another disappointment for the visiting side was the ineffectiveness of their power play. Three chances to score — including a couple of big power plays in the third while down 3-2 — went by the wayside.
The Capitals, meanwhile, had only two power plays, but they were fortunate to have them occur near each other and scored on the two-man advantage.
"Both teams have skilled guys, so on a two-man advantage you have to score," said Ovechkin.
Pittsburgh outshot Washington 36-26, with most of that advantage coming in the third with the Penguins pressing for the equalizer, as they held a 13-6 advantage in the frame.
Game 2 is set for Monday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
Pittsburgh opened the scoring early, and it was the captain who got the team rolling.
Crosby fired a bullet on the rush that went over goalie Varlamov's glove to make it 1-0 Penguins at 4:09 of the first.
That quieted the Verizon Center crowd for a while, but they had reason to erupt at 13:50 of the frame.
Washington forward Steckel scored after he snuck in behind three Penguins on the rush, as they all went to cover puck-carrier Matt Bradley, who slid the disc over to the wide-open Steckel and he scored his first of the playoffs.
And that's when Ovechkin and Semin got in on the action.
On a two-man advantage, Semin faked a slapshot that fooled everyone in the building — except Ovechkin, who received a perfect pass from Semin at the side of the net and fired it into an open cage for his fourth of the playoffs at 17:03 of the first. That put the Capitals up 2-1.
Pittsburgh's Eaton scored at 12:54 to tie the game 2-2 on a weak unscreened point shot that went right through Varlamov's glove. But the rookie Washington goaltender more than redeemed himself in the waning minutes of the second with his diving save on Crosby.