The Washington Capitals and their fans threatened to make a big noise Wednesday night when they took on the Penguins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference semi-final match up. Sometime around 7:08 pm Eastern Time they did just that. But about two minutes later they started hearing a noise that gained on them quickly.
Alexander Ovechkin cherry-picked a pass off of the board 2:49 into the first period and raced in alone on Pittsburgh net minder Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fluery's glove slammed shut around Ovechkin's wrist shot and somehow sucked the life out of the Capitals bench for a moment.
Sidney Crosby settles a wrist shot from Sergei Gonchar with his right skate and slams a quick shot past Simeon Varmarlov. 1-0 Pittsburgh.
Fourth line grinder Craig Adams snaps a wrist shot past a suddenly shaken Varlarmov to give the Pens a 2-0.
The noise rose quickly to a crescendo and swallowed the Capitals season before they heard what hit them. The Pens 6-2 win was a crushing ouster from a season that 48 hours before had appeared to have some life left in it.
For all of the hype and all of the offensive drama that the series produced in the first six games, the final turned into a rout on the shoulders of the goaltenders.
The Capitals hope was that they could count on a 21 year old rookie to handle one more barrage from the Pens offense. But a 75 shot advantage over seven games is too much, even for a much more experienced goaltender.
That the Pens put four goals behind Varlarmov in each of the final three games tells you that the Caps were living on the edge of disaster for far longer than they realized.
It is also instructive that when his team absolutely, positively needed a spark and leadership Sidney Crosby showed it shift after shift Wednesday scoring the goal that got the Pens going and the cope de grace that sent the Capitals into the off season.
When his team needed the same thing Alexander Ovechkin was nowhere to be seen. His pick pocket goal on Fleury later in the game did little more than pad his personal stats.
The Caps time and time again tried forcing the issue in the neutral zone on the Pens but found themselves skating in endless circles in their own zone through all seven games unable to match the Pens foot speed.
Varlamov had some answers but the Caps could never figure out a scheme that neutralized the Pens speed all over the ice. Had Varmalov not stolen the first two games there would have been no Game Seven to talk about.
For the first time since they brought the Stanley Cup home in 1992 the Pens are in the NHL's version of the Final Four for the second consecutive season. The Caps are headed for a summer where they'll have to face up to the gap that still remains between them and the next level.