Come on…like it was meant to be any other way.
A standing-room only crowd of 17,132 white-clad screaming Pittsburgh fans watched as Ohio State product David Steckel got sweet, sweet redemption in overtime after blowing a huge opportunity, and missing an open net, in Saturday night’s game five overtime loss.
"I was really down after that," Steckel said late Monday night. "It was right there. I told myself if I had another chance, I wouldn't miss."
Steckel was given another chance…and boy did he deliver.
Bolting to the front of the net after winning the face-off, Steckel deflected a Brook Laich shot behind Penguin’s goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give Washington a 5-4 win, and a trip back to our nation’s capital for a deciding game seven.
Everyone outside of the city of Pittsburgh couldn’t be happier.
Washington had lost their previous seven overtime games, and after Steckel’s goal 6:22 into the overtime period, momentum may have shifted to the Capital’s side.
The outspoken star of the Capitals, Alexander Ovechkin, suggested after Monday’s overtime epic, which was also the third overtime game of this series, that Pittsburgh may get caught in an emotional rift as the mental effect of losing a series-clinching game six on home ice may reverberate into game seven.
"Right now, we feel more energy and more excitement than Pittsburgh," Ovechkin said. "We're going to be flying out there, too."
Clinging to a 4-3 lead late in the third period, Sidney Crosby tied the score with 4:18 remaining in regulation.
If you listened carefully enough you could hear a collective obscenity being shouted from the monuments in Washington.
It appeared as though fate was again in the corner of the Penguins.
Washington’s futility against Pittsburgh in the postseason is well documented. In fact, four times since 1992, including this series, the Capitals have led the Penguins by two games in a postseason series only to watch Pittsburgh crawl their way back into it, on the backs of two superstar forwards, and eliminate the Capitals from postseason play.
It appeared as though the hockey gods were wearing black and gold jerseys yet again as it seemed almost destined that Crosby would tie the score with how hard he had played in the waning minutes.
But the Capitals, who have now faced an elimination game prior to a game seven in their last three playoff series, did what they do best when their backs are against the wall…
Washington forced a game seven…again…and is now 7-1 in their last win-or-go-home games dating back to the final regular season game in 2007-08.
The Penguins, who had won eight of their previous nine overtime games, had been 7-1 against the Capitals in OT; this is also the first time in Marc-Andre Fleury’s career that he lost a playoff overtime game, and the first time he will play in a game seven.
Speaking of the Penguin’s netminder, he continued his sporadic play with what one could only consider a humiliating effort in stopping only 19 of 24 shots; for the second game in this series Washington did not registered a double-digit shot total for any period, of the 21 periods (that includes OT) in this series, the Capitals have only recorded a double-digit shot total in six.
Fleury’s counterpart, Simeon Varlamov, was spectacular again.
Despite allowing four goals, Varlamov made 38 saves and continued to stop prime scoring chances for the Penguins.
Considered over-matched at the start of this series, it has been Varlamov that has resembled a Conn Smythe winner and answered any questions as to whether or not he was ready to play at this level.
Despite out-shooting the Capitals nearly 2:1, and 18-5 in the first period, Pittsburghwas never able to solve Varlamov and put Washington away.
A 2-for-5 effort on the power-play will be tainted by the Penguin’s inability to put the Capitals away early when they had a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly 90 seconds. No team has looked worse on the power-play this postseason than Pittsburgh.
Billy Guerin got things going for Pittsburghin the first period when he wristed a Sidney Crosby dish over Varlarmov’s shoulder at 5:55 of the first to put the Penguins up 1-0.
Victor Kozlov (6:27) and Tomas Fleischmann (14:42) scored in the second period for Washington, and induced a collective hush amongst the Mellon Arena faithful.
It was Mark Eaton, at 19:26 and on the power-play, that registered his fourth goal of the postseason and sent the game to the intermission tied at two: Eaton has now scored as many goals in 12 playoff games as he did in 68 regular season games this year.
After Steckel was called for a slashing penalty for chopping Mark Eaton’s stick in half, Kris Letang netted his second goal of this series, postseason and his career at 4:40 to put the Penguins up 3-2.
It again appeared as though Steckel was doomed to be the goat of yet another Washington loss.
"Steckel, he's been with me for five years now," Washingtoncoach Bruce Boudreau said.
"He's a big-game guy. When he took the penalty and they scored the goal, he just kept saying on the bench, 'Get one back for me, get one back for me.' He's so into the team. He thought, at that point, that he'd them down and he ended up getting the winning goal, so it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."
His prayers would be answered when Alexander Semin…remember him…registered a power-play goal at 5:38 to tie the game at three.
Momentum continued to build for the Capital freight train, as Victor Kozlov scored his second goal of the game just 29 seconds later and put the Capitals up 4-3.
The jubilation on the Washington bench was merely a teaser of things to come, but when Crosby tied the game up late in the third, the tension in Pittsburgh could be felt all the way from the arena to the people sitting on their couch watching at home.
Crosby, in his infinite determination, gutted the game tying goal behind Varlamov, and an entire city skipped a heartbeat.
While the game ended in heartbreak for Pittsburgh, Penguins fans will be forever confident in their team heading into game seven…they’ve been here before.
In Pittsburgh’s first round matchup with Philadelphia, the Penguins squandered an opportunity to clinch the series at home, and fell 3-0 in game five.
On the road for game six, the Penguins came back from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate the Flyers 5-3.
Fans will be hoping for a repeat performance, minus that whole falling behind 3-0 thing, in game seven of this series on Wednesday night.
The big story of game six, however, was the secondary production that Washington received from everyone not named Ovechkin.
Nine different players recorded a point in this game for Washington, and Ovechkin, despite registering three assists and extending his points streak to six games, was held without a goal for the second time in this series; Ovechkin has now factored in on 13 of the 20 Capital goals scored this series…that’s 65 percent!
Viktor Kozlov was the most noticeably improved contributor for the Capitals, going off for two goals and doubling his postseason total.
"It's funny, I said at the beginning, 'Geez, I don't think he has it,'" Boudreau said. "But he's got such a great shot. Once he scored the one, you knew he had a little bit of confidence. We all wish he would shoot more because he's got such a great shot. Him getting two goals, he's such a quiet gentleman, he's another guy you're just really, really happy for."
The big three of Sid the Kid (1 goal, 1 assist), Alex the Great (3 assists) and Evgeni Malkin (3 assists) also had to be pretty happy with their performances as they combined for one goal and seven assists in the game.
The world’s best continue to amaze, and this series continues to live up to the hype.
It is only fitting that we go to a game seven, and a dramatic ending is surely in store.
Six games have been decided by a total of seven goals with three contests seeing an extra period. Not only does this signal a dramatic conclusion to the series, but it also hints that every hockey fan will walk away from Wednesday with a memory that could last a lifetime.
*** Hats off to Simeon Varlamov. He set an NHL record that not many will notice due to the severe overflow of star-power in this series.
Varlamov became the first goaltender in NHL history to win the first four elimination games of his career; games five, six and seven of round one, and game six in this series.
Congratulations Varlamov, on a truly spectacular feat for someone that has played more career playoff games than regular season games.
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