To my readers, I extend my apologies for the lateness of this game summary as I have been experiencing some minor technical difficulties with this wonderful contraption of a computer.
The dream series that Gary Bettman and the NHL had been salivating since Washington’s game seven win over the New York Rangers has been nothing short of compelling, and filled with storylines, to date.
Three games, decided by a total of three goals, with the three best players in the world taking the ice in this series has garnered the attention of the NHL universe.
Crosby and Ovechkin have captivated the nation with their back-and-forth display of one-upmanship.
Sid the Kid and Alex the Great apparently got the memo, and have lived up to the hype, and justified their billing, as the two best players in the world.
Both Crosby (4g, 2a) and Ovechkin (5g, 1a) have registered six points in this series and became only the fifth pair of opposing players to record hat tricks in the same postseason game when they played lights out in game two.
The two former number one overall picks have been every bit as good as their legions of fans would attest, but noticeably absent has been the presence of the Art Ross Trophy winner, and third anchor in this triumvirate of the world’s three best hockey players, Evgeni Malkin.
While Crosby and Ovechkin have been taking over games, Malkin has been merely a fly on the wall, and nothing short of a disappointment.
"I feel good. I know I [did] not play good the last two games," the media-shy Malkin said.
Malkin registered a pedestrian two assists in the first two games, but took finally decided to join the action in game three.
“Geno”, as the Pittsburgh faithful has come to know him, created nearly a half-dozen scoring chances, on magnificent individual efforts in game three, and was rewarded with a late third period power-play goal that put the Penguins ahead 2-1.
As he has done the past two seasons when Crosby went down with injury, Malkin took over the game. Using his physical stature to muscle his way through defenders, Geno had a coming out party and showed why he deserves to be included in any discussion that includes Crosby and Ovechkin.
"He [Malkin] was at another level," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was dominant with the puck and he had the goal, which was fantastic."
Malkin, who hadn’t scored a goal in his past five playoff games, broke an odd-trend that he was sharing with Crosby in this series; Malkin hadn’t registered a goal, as mentioned, in five games, and Crosby registered his first assists in six playoff games.
The Penguins, who had played beyond well enough to win either of the first two games in Washington, were badly outplayed in the first 10 minutes of this game.
"The guys could have got frustrated, we kept with it and stuck with it and we eventually got rewarded," Crosby said. "Any time you go down 2-0 on the road, you know when you come home you've got to respond."
The Penguins, however, nearly shot themselves in the foot as the game didn’t start out with the response they were looking for.
The white-clad, towel-waving, raucous Pittsburgh faithful were silenced 1:23 into the first period when Ovechkin buried a puck, off a bad bounce on the boards, behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
The outward spoken Ovechkin, whose eighth goal of the playoffs was also his fifth of the series, was not all smiles after the game.
"We didn't play our game," Ovechkin said. "I don't want to talk about Varlamov. I don't want to talk about the referees, too. They only had two penalties, it's kind of a joke. I think they deserved to win, they played better than us, and everybody see it."
Washington was penalized seven times on the evening, compared to Pittsburgh’s two, and was out-shot 42-23; the Capitals did not register more than eight shots in any period in game three.
Pittsburghwould need every one of those shots, and while Ovechkin might not want to talk about Varlamov, his game should not be glossed over.
The Capitals netminder was spectacular again between the pipes, and played well enough to steal the game. Pittsburgh had countless opportunities stymied by the Washingtongoaltender, and Varlamov has continued to play like an unrattled 10-year vet.
"He was outstanding," Washingtoncoach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you get a goaltending effort like that, you have to win, because they don't come around every day."
Varlamov’s 39 saves were indeed good enough to warrant a Washington victory, but the Capitals were never able to get anything going on the offensive end.
“They played great," Boudreau said. "They were going on all cylinders, and we were watching them skate."
While Varlamov, an inefficient Capital offense and a huge disparity in penalties are all topics of discussion, it is Malkin that was the story of this game.
Kris Letang, who netted the overtime winner at 11:23 of the extra period, will get credit for the game-winner, but it was the improved play of Pittsburgh’s Hart Trophy candidate that will gain most of the attention from game three.
"Over the last few days, he's taken a bit of heat," Crosby said. "It was a big game, and he definitely came to play."
As Pittsburgh looks ahead to game four, they will be doing so with ever-lasting optimism as a determined Malkin will help take some of the load off of Crosby’s shoulders.
The Penguins have been in this situation before with the Capitals, and have shown the poise and grit of a champion in coming back; Pittsburgh trailed 2-0 in both 1992 and 1996, yet came back to beat Washington and advance in the playoffs.
The Penguins, who have beaten the Capitals five of the past six postseason series, improved their record to 6-2 against Washington in game three’s.
The overtime win was also the Penguins sixth postseason overtime win in a row, and fifth overall by the score of 3-2.
While no team has come back from a 3-0 series deficit in 34 years, game four will prove to be just as, if not more, important than game three.
While 3-0 is a near impossible task, falling behind 3-1 is just as daunting; especially with two of the final three games emanating from Washington.
The Penguins know how important this win was, but are not underestimating the value of taking both games at home. Sending the series back to Washington for game five tied a two games a piece will alter the entire course of this series due to a massive shift in momentum.
Despite lingering power-play problems, the Penguins were 1-for-7 Wednesday night, they can take solace in knowing that Evgeni Malkin finally decided to show up.
Buckle down hockey fans, if Malkin continues this kind of play, we are in for one exciting conclusion to this dream series.