May 2, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
The Washington Capitals entered Monday night’s game against the Penguins in a must-win situation. While it wasn’t an elimination game, it may as well have been. Up against the ropes in an 0-2 series deficit, an 0-3 hole would have been almost impossible to escape from.
Washington has notoriously struggled against the Penguins, especially in the post-season. Their Stanley Cup dreams have been dashed by Pittsburgh in both 2009 and 2016–two seasons the Caps seemed best suited to win. But no matter how good they were, it was never enough to overpower their division foe.
The first two losses of the second round were brutal, coming at home against their loyal fans. Though they lost Game 1 by just a point, they were embarrassed two days later in Game 2 when the Penguins outscored the Caps 6-2. They entered Game 3 determined to show they weren’t going down without a fight.
Washington controlled most of the game, and led 2-0 with just two minutes left to play in Pittsburgh on Monday. But the Penguins proved exactly why they are so hard to beat, when they ended the shutout to cut the deficit to one with under two minutes to play. A few moments later, Justin Schultz knocked in another goal to tie things up.
Washington was unable to respond before regulation ended, and the game headed to overtime.
Kevin Shatternkirk played hero for Washington when he scored a power-play 3:13 into overtime to give the Caps a 3-2 win against the Penguins, their first in the best-of-seven series.
“I think tonight was a great test for all of us,” Shattenkirk told reporters. “There were a lot of different moments in the game where we had to see what we were made of. For me, it was a shift-by-shift process. Obviously, I feel a lot different than where I was standing 12 hours ago with you guys, but I have to make sure I carry this into the next game.”
While Monday’s victory may help swing momentum in the Capitals’ direction, the game also proved exactly how contentious things are between the two teams. Sidney Crosby exited the game after an ugly shot to the head from Capital Matt Niskanen, who was ejected for the act. Crosby, the team’s captain, has a history of head injuries which made what happened that much worse.
The Caps will enjoy a day off before heading back to PPG Paints Arena for Game 4. As the stakes, and tensions, escalate, they will need to focus on playing well and not hung up on drama if they want to advance.
The Boston Celtics showed the Washington Wizards they a force to be reckoned with in their come-from-behind victory on Sunday.
Washington looked strong early, jumping ahead to a 16-0 advantage and leading by as many as 16 points. But the Celtics rallied, overcoming the deficit and outscoring the Wizards by 17 points in the second half, en route to a 123-111 victory.
“They were a little more aggressive than we were,” Bradley Beal said. “Our defense slipped a little. We lacked some IQ and focus.”
Beal led Washington with 27 points, while John Wall added 20 along with 16 assists.
They both trailed Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points and nine assists and has been an offensive powerhouse for his team this postseason. The All Star’s contribution comes amidst personal turmoil–his sister died in a car accident the day before the playoffs started; he flew cross-country to her funeral before the second round against Washington started.
The Wizards’ Game 1 struggles also included letting Boston score 19 3-pointers, and losing starter Markieff Morris, who exited with a sprained ankle in the second quarter. Whether or not he will play in Game 2 is a game-time decision, and Wizards coach Scott Brooks has made it clear he will only play if the team’s medical staff feels it’s what’s best for him.
“He’s not going to play no matter how many times he punches me in the face. It’s not going to happen,” Brooks said. “He is pretty intimidating, but I’m not going to allow him to intimidated me.”
With or without Morris, the Wizards will need to make adjustments if they want to win Game 2. They have to cut down on the number of three-pointers–and make sure to keep momentum going and not get comfortable if they have a seemingly insurmountable lead.
If they don’t, they may not have many more games to worry about.