Los Angeles (AFP) – Jakub Vrana scored the game winner late in the third period as the Washington Capitals put the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on the brink of elimination with a 6-3 playoff win Saturday.
Braden Holtby made 35 saves and Vrana came off the bench to play on the top line, making the most of his promotion as the Capitals took a 3-2 second round series lead over the Penguins for the first time ever.
The 22-year-old Czech forward was inserted onto the No. 1 line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and sent Kuznetsov in on a breakaway for the Capitals’ tying goal early in the third and then combined with Ovechkin for the game winner.
“I was just focused on going hard to the net and I got the bounce,” Vrana said of his goal at 15:22 of the third. “You got to bring something from your game.
“We had a good game today but we are already focused on the next game.”
In the late game, Kyle Connor scored two goals in the second period as the Winnipeg Jets seized a 3-2 best-of-seven series lead with a dominating 6-2 victory.
The Capitals are one victory from advancing to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998, when they reached the Stanley Cup final. If they win game six on Monday in Pittsburgh they would play the winner of the series between Tampa Bay and Boston.
Holtby was superb Saturday especially when the Capitals were outshot 18-5 in the second period in front of a crowd of 18,500 at Capital One arena in Washington.
John Carlson and Brett Connolly scored 33 seconds apart in the first period for Washington to erase Pittsburgh’s 1-0 lead on a Jamie Oleksiak’s goal.
Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and forward Patric Hornqvist then scored power-play goals that put the Penguins ahead until coach Barry Trotz switched Vrana to the top line.
Washington put Pittsburgh on the brink despite playing without star centre Nicklas Backstrom for much of the third period. Washington sealed the victory with empty net goals by T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller.
The Capitals took a 3-2 series lead on the Penguins for the first time in four playoff series dating to 2009.