Jakub Vrana didn’t start Game 5 on the top line, but after Devante Smith-Pelly took two tripping penalties in the second period, coach Barry Trotz put Vrana with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. It paid off.
Vrana assisted on the equalizer and scored the game-winning goal in the Capitals’ 6-3 Game 5 win, giving Washington a 3-2 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps are now a win away from the Eastern Conference Final, a series Washington has yet to reach with Ovechkin.
The Pens scored on their first shot of the game. Thanks to a screen from Conor Sheary, Jamie Oleksiak’s shot made from the point went through about five players and past Braden Holtby to open up the scoring. John Carlson tied it up on the power play with 1:38 left in the first and Brett Connolly scored 33 seconds later to take a 2-1 Capitals lead.
The second period belonged to the Penguins, as they outshot Washington 18-5, and two power-play goals put Pittsburgh back on top. Smith-Pelly was moved to the top trio for Washington when Tom Wilson was suspended three games for his hit on Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3, but two penalties, one of which resulted in a goal for the Pens, didn’t sit well with Trotz. In came Vrana to save the day.
Just 52 seconds into the third, Vrana found Kuznetsov on a breakaway when Kris Letang ended up on the same side as Brian Dumoulin. The rest was easy for Kuznetsov and the Caps evened it up.
Most of the third was spent with the Penguins and the Capitals exchanging chances until Vrana stepped up for a goal of his own. Dumoulin had a chance alone with Holtby, but the rebound was scooped up and marched up the ice. A feed from Ovechkin was perfectly timed as Vrana crashed the net to score the go-ahead goal. Vrana said on the broadcast after the game that he thought Ovechkin was going to shoot it, but he was there to send it home.
The Capitals sealed it with not one, but two empty-net goals to close out and will head to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Monday. Trotz told reporters after the game that Nicklas Backstrom, who left the game in the third period, has an upper-body injury and they will know more about his status on Sunday.
JETS 6, PREDATORS 2
A six-goal second period set a high tempo for the second half of Winnipeg’s 6-2 Game 5 win over the Predators.
After a quiet first period, the Jets struck first 7:44 into the second when Paul Stastny deflected a shot from Patrik Laine. After review, the ricochet off Stastny’s glove was deemed a good goal and the Jets took a 1-0 lead. Then the floodgates opened.
Yannick Weber tied it up with an unassisted top-shelf snipe, but Kyle Connor regained the lead 82 seconds later with his first career playoff goal. Dustin Byfuglien got his chance two minutes later with his signature blast from the point, and with four Predator players lined up in front of Pekka Rinne, it was virtually impossible for the goaltender to see Buff’s shot coming at him.
Connor tallied a second goal, but the Predators had a quick response with a shorthanded goal from Ryan Johansen to end the period at 4-2 in the Jets’ favor.
Intermission didn’t seem to dampen the pace for Winnipeg as Mark Scheifele scored just 28 seconds into the third. A power-play goal from Mathieu Perreault six minutes later ultimately chased Rinne, who allowed six goals on 26 shots, out for Juuse Saros. The Jets head back to Winnipeg with a 3-2 series lead in a building they have won 13 of their last 14 home games.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
After a missed opportunity for the Penguins, Ovechkin led the rush back up the ice for the Capitals and flipped the puck right in front of Vrana, who finished it off for a beautiful go-ahead goal.
Vrana’s feelings on notching the game-winner? Well, duh.
1. Kyle Connor, WPG — Connor had 31 goals during the regular season, but none in the playoffs until Saturday night. His two goals and assist to set up Scheifele in the third powered the Jets through their Game 5 win.
2. Jakub Vrana, WSH — A quick line adjustment mid-game was apparently the spark Washington needed in a back-and-forth match. Vrana looked as though he was right at home with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
3. Braden Holtby, WSH — Pittsburgh was coming at Holtby with pressure left and right and could have easily taken more than two goals in the second period had the goaltender not been so focused. Though Holtby eventually got the offensive support from his teammates that secured the Capitals’ win, the goaltender stood tall in his 36-save night.
Thanks to Dan Girardi’s overtime heroics, the Lightning reeled off a third straight win against the Bruins and find themselves on the precipice of the Eastern Conference Final. The Bolts got a boost from Steven Stamkos, netting a goal in his second straight game that put their series lead at 3-1. The Bruins now face the daunting task of staying alive in Sunday’s Game 5 on the road while setting aside the frustrations of the last three games—and without defenseman Torey Krug. “Our backs are against the wall, so we just got to go play,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “We can’t think about anything else at this point. It’s been really unfortunate, but we can’t put it in anyone else’s hands.”
The Golden Knights continued their improbable playoff march, taking a 3-2 series lead over the Sharks with a 5-3 win on Friday. Vegas, already the most successful first-year expansion team in sports history, is one win away from the West final, with Game 6 of their series slated for Sunday. “You guys see these guys’ regular-season record, that’s not an accident,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “They’re very good at home. Thirty teams tried to figure that out this year, and no one had success. We have to go back [home], win a game, and then find a way in Game 7.” DeBoer’s Sharks were able to mount a comeback attempt in the third period, but can’t risk falling behind in a do-or-die Game 6.