The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially booked their trip to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a narrow 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals. The victory saw the team clinch their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 15th consecutive season, the longest active postseason streak among any team in a major North American professional sports league.
It’s safe to say that this season’s success was by no means guaranteed, as the Pens entered the season as underdogs and a potential fringe playoff team. However, as the season has progressed the injury-riddled Penguins have continued to assert their dominance as playoff contenders, while other division favorites such as the Philadelphia Flyers have seen a decline in performance, and have not exceeded expectations. With last night’s win, the Pens sit tied for first in the division with the Capitals at 69 points.
Coach Sullivan on clinching a playoff spot, “We’re going to enjoy this one tonight. These guys have competed extremely hard all year long to earn the privilege to compete for the Stanley Cup. I’m proud of the group for what they’ve accomplished to this point.”
The team clinched their spot in style after a back and forth performance against the Caps that saw Tristan Jarry make 33 saves and backstopping the team to an overtime win, his 22nd of the year. TJ Oshie opened the scoring in the first period on the powerplay before Kasperi Kapanen scored an unassisted goal, his ninth of the year to tie the game at one headed into the intermission.
The second period saw Frederick Gaudreau give the Pens the lead at 8:32 of the frame, but under a minute later, Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov tied the game again, and under five minutes later, former Penguin Daniel Sprong scored his 11th of the year to put the Caps back in front. Zach Aston-Reese scored his ninth of the season after being left alone in front, where he beat Vitek Vanecek on a deke to once again tie the game heading into the third period.
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At 10:55 of the third period, Kapanen found the back of the net for the second time on the night, to break the deadlock and put the Pens in front 4-3, but the Capitals applied lots of pressure late in the game which resulted in a Tom Wilson equalizer with just 15 seconds to go in the final frame, sending the game to a crucial overtime for the Pens.
An overtime winner would keep the Penguins playoff streak alive, and at 2:11 of the overtime period, Jake Guentzel delivered on a redirection after a pass from John Marino, Guentzel’s 22nd of the year, and the playoff-clinching goal.
Guentzel spoke about clinching a playoff spot: “It’s a start. It’s what we wanted to do at the beginning of the year. We know our division’s tough, so got the first step done here and we’ve got to keep grinding the last five games to see where we end up.”
Clinching a playoff spot is only step one for the Penguins who will look to go deep in the postseason, where they will likely play one of either the Boston Bruins or the New York Islanders. The team currently sits at 69 points prior to their matchup with the Capitals.