WASHINGTON – Already down a game in their second-round playoff series, Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins suddenly were down a man, too, on Saturday night, when Olli Maatta was leveled by a high hit from Washington’s Brooks Orpik less than 5 minutes in.
So the Penguins simply did what they’ve been doing for weeks and weeks now: They figured out a way to set aside a setback.
Letang played more than 35 minutes to help make up for fellow defenseman Maatta’s absence, and Eric Fehr scored the tiebreaking goal against his former team with about 4½ minutes remaining, giving the Penguins a 2-1 victory over the Capitals that evened the Eastern Conference series at a game apiece.
The Penguins have not lost two consecutive games since mid-January, displaying the sort of resilience that teams hope to rely on at this time of year.
“If you have that ability, you give yourself a chance every night to win. . . . You’ve got to bounce back, and we’ve done a good job of that all year,” Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. “Hopefully, we continue to.”
Even Capitals coach Barry Trotz noted: “I sensed that they had a heightened sense of desperation.”
The series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Monday night. If Saturday was any indication, it could be rough-and-tumble the rest of the way.
The tone was established early, when Orpik sent Maatta slamming to the ice. The Penguins defenseman was helped off and did not return.
“He’s obviously out. We’ll have more details probably tomorrow on his status,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought it was a late hit. I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit that everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game. That’s how I saw it.”
Orpik, who helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup when he played for them, did not speak to reporters afterward.
Trotz’s take: “I’ll let the league handle it. . . . He’s not a dirty player. The Pittsburgh people know that.”
Without Maatta, Letang took on an increased role, spending more than 8½ more minutes in the game than any other player on either team and helping silence Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. In all, Pittsburgh dominated play for the first two periods, and 21-year-old rookie goalie Matt Murray finished with 23 saves.
“To play with five ‘D’ for as long as we had to . . . that wasn’t easy,” Crosby said. “They were the difference in us winning tonight.”
Lightning 4, Islanders 1
In Tampa, Tyler Johnson had two goals and an assist and the Lightning beat New York to even the second-round series at a game apiece.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop rebounded after being pulled in the second period of Game 1 to make 19 saves. He gave up four goals on 13 shots Wednesday night in a 5-3 loss.
Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman each had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay.
Nikolay Kulemin scored for the Islanders, and Thomas Greiss 27 stopped shots.
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
After Islanders teammates Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Leddy collided at the Tampa Bay blue line, the Lightning got an odd-man rush that resulted in Johnson’s backhander that opened the scoring 6:03 into the game. Johnson extended the Tampa Bay advantage to 4-1 with a late empty-netter.