Penguins-Capitals Game Six Preview: Caps on Brink of Elimination; Is There Hope?

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IMay 11, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 09:  Evgeni Malkin #71 and Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate Malkin's overtime winning goal over the Washington Capitals  during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 9, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

This has to seem like a bad rerun for Washington fans.

They’ve seen this show before, and needless to say, they don’t like it.

I mean, seriously; it’s almost as if this were scripted.

Just like their Canadian-Czech duo led them in 1992, 1995, and 1996, the Pittsburgh Penguins are led by a deadly Canadian-Russian duo that is poised to finish off the Washington Capitals in another postseason comeback.

Much like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did for so many years, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have taken charge of this series despite an MVP-type performance from Capital phenom Alexander Ovechkin.

Of the 15 goals Washington has scored in this series, Ovechkin has tallied seven of them; factor in that he has assisted on three others, and Ovechkin has been involved on 10 of the Capitals' 15 goals.

Let me say that again: Alexander Ovechkin has factored in 10 of Washington’s 15 goals in this series...that’s two-thirds of Washington’s production!

There really is not much more Alex the Great can do.

If Washington is to pull off what could be one of the greatest postseason comebacks in franchise history, they are going to need more production out of their second and third lines in Game Six.

Alexander Semin and David Steckel are going to need to step up and contribute; Steckel registered goals in the first two games of this series and has been nearly invisible since.

As for Semin...if a player could get points for hitting the glass, Semin would be leading the league.

The Penguins, on the other hand, are getting great production from their third line and fourth line.

In Game Five, Pittsburgh’s third line and secondary scorers gave them the edge over Ovechkin, who factored in on all three Washington goals.

Jordan Staal, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Matt Cooke gave the Penguins the boost they needed and bought them enough time for one of their two big-named players to steal the game in overtime.

Fedotenko has been a huge factor for Pittsburgh the past three games, as he has registered big goals in crucial situations.

"We got it (secondary scoring) in the first couple of games and we won," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Sunday.

"They've gotten it the last couple of games and they've won. So, hopefully it's our turn."

As for those two big-named players, Malkin is having a good series with five points (two goals and three assists), and Crosby is having a great series with eight points (five goals and three assists).

While Crosby and Ovechkin have stolen the spotlight with their back-and-forth game of one-upmanship, Malkin has been responsible for two big Pittsburgh victories, both coming in overtime.

Malkin's series-defining performance in Game Three was a huge reason the Penguins were able to survive the Capitals in overtime, and Geno got credit for the game-winning goal in Game Five when his pass to Crosby deflected off of Tom Poti’s stick and behind Simeon Varlamov for the Pittsburgh win.

It is interesting to note that in both games the Capitals were done in by their own players, as both overtime goals found a way to pinball themselves off Capital defenders.

The Penguins have won six of the past seven series against the Capitals, five of which were comebacks after trailing in the series.

The Penguins also advanced to 8-0 against the Capitals in Game Five.

Starting to sound redundant, isn’t it?

Truth is, there is no reason for Pittsburgh not to think they won’t advance to the next round.

The Penguins have all the momentum, are playing great hockey, and have won three games in a row. They have done this to the Capitals numerous times, and they have a chance to clinch the series on home ice.

All the signs are pointing to a Pittsburgh win, but sometimes desperation can trump momentum.

"When you get down 2-0, that fear of not winning and not moving on is there," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on Sunday.

"We got the desperation in our game we needed, and we've put ourselves in a situation to move on. The guys in that (dressing) room know exactly what's at stake and what's in front of us for Game Six. We expect a team that's going to be real desperate...a team that's good, that's dangerous, that's going to be giving everything they've got."

The Capitals have been riding on the shoulders of Ovechkin and Varlamov for the entire series, and they will need that desperation if they hope to upset the Penguins on their home ice and send the series back to Washington for a Game Seven.

No matter how desperate Washington may get, history has been, and continues to be, against the Capitals: The Penguins are 6-0 all time when they have a chance to close out Washington in a series.

Keys to victory




There is really only one key to victory for Washington in this game.

Yes, they need to stay out of the penalty box, and they need a strong performance from Simeon Varlamov, but Washington needs production from someone not named Ovechkin if they hope to have any chance in this game.

The Capitals improved on their disciplined play and limited Pittsburgh to only two power plays in Game Five, and Varlamov has been good far more often than he has been bad, so it is almost a safe bet to assume he’ll turn in another strong performance.

Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Federov, and the rest of the Caps squad are going to need to help Ovechkin shoulder the load, or it will be a long night in Pittsburgh for Washington and coach Bruce Boudreau.


Things are real simple for Pittsburgh in Game Six...keep doing what you’re doing.

If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

Pittsburgh has outplayed Washington in nearly every game, even in losing the first two.

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have done their part, and Pittsburgh’s third and fourth liners have contributed hugely to their efforts.

Dan Bylsma has his squad playing at a high level at the right time, and Pittsburgh is on the verge of reaching the Conference Finals for the second year in a row. The last time the Penguins accomplished this was in their back-to-back Stanley Cup years of the early '90s.

With three victories in a row, strong contributions from all lines, and history on their side, Pittsburgh will be tough to beat on home ice...but as long as Washington has Alexander Ovechkin, I won’t be counting them out until the final horn sounds.


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