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WASHINGTON – With Sidney Crosby continuing his brilliance for the Penguins and Braden Holtby not having the same response in net for the Capitals, the second-round series between the NHL's top teams has tilted in Pittsburgh's favor.
Crosby set up two goals and the Penguins chased Holtby in a 6-2 victory Saturday night in Game 2, taking a commanding 2-0 lead back home. Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced in his second consecutive strong performance and Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel scored twice to put the Presidents' Trophy winners in a historically difficult hole.
Teams that have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home are 18-69 (21.7 percent) all time in the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. To attempt their own comeback, the Capitals might turn back to Holtby for Game 3 Monday night in Pittsburgh after backup Philipp Grubauer allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced in relief.
Holtby had surrendered three goals on 14 shots before getting the hook after the second period Saturday. The goals by Matt Cullen (short-handed), Kessel and Guentzel weren't all Holtby's fault because of miscues and odd-man rushes, but the reigning Vezina Trophy winner didn't make the timely save his team needed.
Grubauer allowed goals to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin early in the third, but the Penguins continued to pour it on and got an empty-netter from Guentzel in the final minute. It was his playoff-leading seventh goal.
After outshooting the Penguins 35-21 in their Game 1 loss, the Capitals came out firing with 10 of the first 11 shots Saturday night. They dominated territorially and tested Fleury but couldn't crack him as the teams went through another first period without a goal.
Complaining of no power plays in Game 1, the Capitals did nothing with their two first-period chances and gave up the first goal on the third early in the second. Cullen blocked Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the point, blew around Washington's big trade-deadline acquisition and slid the puck between Holtby's legs for the short-handed goal 1:15 into the second even as T.J. Oshie hooked him from behind.
When Backstrom won a puck battle in the corner, Niskanen answered right back 54 seconds later with a power-play goal to tie it.
Then the quick-strike Penguins were at it again.
Crosby's between-the-legs move made Alex Ovechkin, Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov converge on him, leaving Kessel wide open for a snipe from the faceoff circle at 13:04. Three-plus minutes later, Crosby went down to block Justin Williams' shot, slid the puck go Guentzel while still on his belly to jumpstart the 2-on-1 and the rookie from Omaha, Nebraska beat Holtby clean to make it 3-1 Pittsburgh.
That marked the end of Holtby's night after two periods as the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner was again not at his best as Fleury stole the show. Holtby has a 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in eight games in these playoffs, a far cry from his career postseason brilliance.
But Grubauer couldn't rescue the Capitals, allowing a power-play goal to Kessel on the second shot he faced 2:19 with Shattenkirk in the penalty box for putting the puck over the glass. Backstrom's rebound goal 3:44 into the third period cut the Penguins' lead to 4-2, but Malkin tipped a shot by Ian Cole past Grubauer at 5:31 on a play that was called goaltender interference on the ice and reversed on a successful coach's challenge by Mike Sullivan.
Grubauer allowed two goals on nine shots.
NOTES: LW Carl Hagelin returned to the Penguins' lineup after being out since March 10 with a lower-body injury. He replaced Scott Wilson. ... Pittsburgh RW Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot by John Carlson and did not return. ... RW Paul Carey replaced Brett Connolly in the Capitals' lineup. ... Washington D Karl Alzner remained out with an upper-body injury, though coach Barry Trotz said Alzner was close.