PITTSBURGH — Momentum, shmomentum.
Ask anybody in this second-round series between the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals — the team the Penguins beat at this stage the last two years — and there’s no real carry over from one game to the next in this best-of-seven.
In other words, as the Capitals get set for Game 3 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, they’re not expecting a 4-1 win from two days ago to have much weight in a series that’s knotted at one game apiece.
“Who gets to four wins is who’s going to move forward,” captain Alex Ovechkin rightly pointed out, after the morning skate. “We want four wins, and right now, we have to take this game.”
Capitals netminder Braden Holtby added that “the past doesn’t affect” a new game at all. “You have to focus on setting it up right away with the little plays, and really just that single moment at a time.”
So, a clean slate it is.
Here are a few things to note ahead of Game 3, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m. ET at PPG Paints Arena.
Tom Wilson won’t win any popularity contests
Last game, the Capitals winger laid a controversial hit on Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin — shoulder to head — that saw Dumoulin leave the game and never return.
Wilson, who sandwiched Dumoulin along with Ovechkin, wasn’t suspended by the league, but certainly more than a few Penguins figured the hit warranted some careful examination from the league.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t touching the query as to whether his team would be looking for retribution.
“We’re just going to play the game,” Sullivan said. “Our No. 1 focus is to win that hockey game.”
For his part, Ovechkin didn’t seem too concerned that things might be more physical Tuesday, due to the presence of his linemate.
“We’re ready,” the captain said. “I think we’re bigger than them, and we have to use it.”
Should it get more physical, what would Ovechkin think?
“I don’t care,” he said.
Look out for the start
In the first two games of this series, the Capitals needed just 17 seconds (Game 1) and 1:26 (Game 2) to score. They’ve gotten off to incredible starts.
But here, in the City of Champions — a nickname Pittsburgh earned in the ’70s — there’s a different feel.
Holtby underscored that every moment of the game is important, “but obviously one key of playing on the road in any city is usually teams come out a little more prepared, or start off the game a little different.”
The goaltender added, however, that home ice might not be the advantage it once was.
“I think honestly the way the game is now, I don’t think home ice means quite as much,” Holtby said. “Matchups are one thing, but really the game happens so fast now that it’s hard for one team to dominate matchups. Road, home, you play a little different. On the road, you’re not trying to impress people too much. You’re trying to do it in any way possible, and I think that’s why we’ve had success.
“I can’t speak for Pittsburgh because I haven’t watched them in other games, but we’ve done a good job of that learning from the regular season. I think we closed out the year on the road the right way, playing the right way, and carried it over into the playoffs.”
So many game-time decision Penguins
We’ll find out just before puck drop whether Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin and Dumoulin will be in the lineup.
Malkin, who has yet to play in this series and missed his third straight game on Sunday, wore a no-contact grey sweater at practice on Monday, but he participated fully in the morning skate on Tuesday.
Hagelin, who’s been out since a high hit from Claude Giroux in Game 6 of their first-round series, also participated in the morning skate.
Dumoulin skated yesterday and Tuesday, and said he has “no issues at all,” that “everything’s normal, so it’s good.” He went through his usual game-day routine on Tuesday. “Hopefully I can go tonight but we’ll let coach decide that,” he added.
Those are three key players to Pittsburgh’s lineup, obviously — Malkin led the team in scoring in the regular season, Hagelin’s speed has been missed and Dumoulin is on the No. 1 defensive pairing, along with Kris Letang.
As winger Jake Guentzel put it, “they’re game-changers.”
The Guentzel streak is on the line
The 23-year-old from Omaha, Neb., has recorded points in each of the last six games, he has 17 points in the post-season (only David Pastrnak has more, with 18) and he’s scored two game-winning goals while playing on that No. 1 unit along with Sidney Crosby.
After every game, it seems, Guentzel, who had a career-high 48 regular-season points, is asked to explain his playoff production.
He’s running out of ways to say the same thing, so it usually sounds like this: “Just playing with good players. I mean, when you’re playing with guys like we are, it’s pretty easy to do, so you just got to try and get them the puck.”
Guentzel’s streak in the post-season is tied for longest in the NHL.