Capitals—Penguins: Varlamov Robs Pens in Game One

Todd FlemingAnalyst IMay 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 02:  Simeon Varlamov #40 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck in the crease with Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 2, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Game one of the NHL's dream matchup not only lived up to hype, it exceeded it. 

The league's two biggest names, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, played like superstars. 

The two players seemingly took turns dominating the play with plenty of help from their frequently overshadowed teammates. The odd man out of the NHL's big three is Evgeni Malkin, although he did get an assist on Mark Eaton's goal.

Sidney Crosby was simply all over the ice, playing like a man possessed. He was a dominant force throughout the game, scoring the opening goal on a beautiful individual effort, where he weaved through a couple Capitals and snapped off a perfect shot.

He served as the catalyst behind the Pens' 36 shot performance.

Ovechkin, for his part, played well and scored one of his signature goals during a 5-3five on three advantage. He also had dominant stretches and rang the puck off the post twice.

If the first period belonged to Crosby, Ovechkin was the main attraction in the second period.

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The game was decided on one of the best plays of the playoffs. Minutes after giving up a soft goal to Mark Eaton from the point, the Penguins and Crosby were barreling towards Simeon Varlamov again, looking to regain the lead. Crosby and Chris Kunitz whirled around the defenders with Kunitz sliding a perfect pass to Crosby who was staring at a wide open net. 

It was a picture perfect play with Crosby pushing the puck towards the open net and raising his arms in the air to celebrate the goal.

The only problem was that the Caps' rookie goaltender pulled off grand larceny, diving while reaching back with his stick and somehow robbing Crosby right as the puck was about to cross the line. It was the best save of the playoffs, even better than Marc Andre-Fleury's first round thievery of Jeff Carter. Both teams would look back at that moment, with the game tied 2-2, as the turning point.

"I was stunned," said Capitals' forward Brooks Laich. "I was like, 'Oh my God!' I was amazed. I saw Crosby and I was like, 'Oh, that's in. But then Varlamov just reaches back and grabs it and the whole bench was like, 'Wow, that's our break, let's get going, we've got to smarten up and play better.' Incredible."

Said Crosby, “When you have an open net like that in a 2-2 tie, don’t score, then end up losing 3-2, it’s easy to say 'What if?' But you have to forget about it.”

Varlamov earned the game's first star on the brilliance of that play.

The Caps scored the game's final goal early in the third period to earn the win when Tomas Fleischmann knocked the puck home.

This is a game that Penguins' goalie Marc Andre-Fleury will want to forget. For a goalie who is frequently spectacular in the playoffs, this was not one of his finest efforts. Based on his history, look for him to come up big in game two.

All in all, this is the kind of game that NHL executives dreamed about when they got their star-studded banner matchup. Six more games like this would suit them just fine.  

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