With five penalties called in the first period alone, the Game 3 officiating crew seemed to be sending the Penguins and Capitals a message – play it clean.

By the second period, emotion on both sides began to bubble over, and the officials started to lose control of the game. In the lowlight of the contest, the Capitals’ Tom Wilson responded to escaping discipline for a hit to the head of Brian Dumoulin in Game 2 by taking out Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese in much the same way.

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz saw it as “shoulder-to-shoulder; a hard hockey hit.” But Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan felt differently, and Aston-Reese’s injury report seemed to confirm the head as the principal point of contact.

“We lose a guy to a broken jaw that’s going to require surgery, and a concussion, because of another high hit to the head,” Sullivan said. “At some point we would hope that the league might do something.”

As luck would have it, George Parros, head of the Department of Player Safety, was on hand to watch the game in person. There was no immediate word regarding what he thought of the hit, but the game went on without a penalty.

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was seen yelling down the bench at Wilson, who appeared to be laughing after the incident.

“More [upset] about the laughing part,” Letang said. “I get the physical play; at the end of the day I respect what kind of game he plays. But you don’t laugh at somebody getting hurt. You just don’t do that.”

As for the hockey portion of the game, it featured a much better start for the Penguins, who had a slight edge in offensive zone time in the first period, yet still managed to give up the opening goal, early in the second period, for the fifth consecutive game.

After that, though, the ice started to tilt the Penguins’ way. They scored three times in the second, starting with 23-year-old Jake Guentzel adding another goal and point to his league-leading playoff run by tipping defenseman Justin Schultz’s shot past Capitals netminder Braden Holtby.

Patric Hornqvist, camped out in the blue paint to convert on the Penguins’ struggling power play, and captain Sidney Crosby, off a feed from linemate Guentzel, scored the others. Washington also added a goal from Chandler Stephenson in the second, giving Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead as they headed to the final frame.

That’s where the Penguins got soundly beat, with the Caps holding them to just three shots in the period.

“Every line was creating pressure and chances,” Crosby said. “Just one of those nights where, every little breakdown, they capitalized.”

Former Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen tied the game five minutes into the period. Then, with just 1:07 remaining, Wilson once again made his presence felt.

With the Penguins’ top line generating momentum in the offensive zone, Wilson tripped Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta. That sprung Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals’ captain and most dangerous goal scorer, on a 2-on-1.

When Ovechkin hit the post on his initial shot, he batted the puck out of the air for a beauty of a game-winning goal.

“I thought I was all over it, but he made a pretty good play to stay with it and bat it in,” Penguins goaltender Matt Murray said. “I’ve just got to make a save there.”

For Sullivan, it started with a turnover on an offensive-zone pass from Maatta, even before the trip.

“We’ve got to be smarter with the puck in that time in the game, that area of the rink; make sure we give our forwards another opportunity to make a play at the net,” Sullivan said. “It was unfortunate because we had pretty good momentum. We had our top line on the ice, we felt like the other team was tired and we had an extended [offensive] zone shift. It was disappointing.”

Although Ovechkin’s goal put the Penguins on the wrong end of a 4-3 loss and 2-1 series, they weren’t disappointed in their play and said they trust they’ll be rewarded if they stick to their game. They’ll get an opportunity to even it up Thursday.

“This game, we dictated most of it,” Letang said. “I think our team showed character; showed emotion. Unfortunately a bad break with a minute [left] and we lose the game.”

“It’s hard to win the playoffs, and no one knows it better than this team,” Sullivan said. “We played a hard-fought game tonight; that game could’ve gone either way. We have to make sure we put it behind us, look to the next game and put our best game forward.”

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