Penguins-Capitals: Pens Beat Caps In OT to Seize Series Lead

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IMay 11, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 09:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is mobbed by his teammates as they all 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)

The Pittsburgh Penguins made a statement in game four, and the Washington Capitals answered with a huge statement in game five.

Everything was in place for a Capitals victory.

The home team has won every game of this series, and game five was held amidst a sea of red-clad Capitals fans at the Verizon Center in our nation’s capital.

The team that has scored first in each game of this series has lost and—wouldn’t you know it—the Penguins netted the first goal of this game when Jordan Staal beat Simeon Varlamov for his first goal of this postseason, 5:17 into the second period.

After Evgeni Malkin took over game three with one of the best individual performances of this postseason, and yes, that includes the dueling hat tricks of Sid the Kid and Alex the great in game two, Sidney Crosby followed with a phenomenal performance of his own in Pittsburgh’s dominant game four victory.

It would only be fitting that the Capitals' young superstar, Alexander Ovechkin, would follow suit in game five with a performance worthy of MVP-type praise.

And boy did he ever.

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Ovechkin took over the postseason points lead on Saturday night with a two goal, one assist effort; Ovechkin leads the NHL in postseason points (17) and goals (10), he is one point ahead of Sidney Crosby in both categories.

Ovechkin now has seven goals in this series, and has shown numerous reasons why he is the best goal-scorer of this generation. His second period goal, 59 seconds after Staal put Pittsburgh up 1-0, should serve as the very definition of his goal-scoring prowess.

A wicked, and I can’t stress wicked enough, wrist shot from just beyond the circle found the top corner of the glove hand side of the net, and tied the game at one a piece.

"Ovie's Ovie. I mean I think I've talked about friggin' the cows come home with him, I mean there's got to be something else to talk [about]. He plays good all the time. He's the MVP," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Ovechkin, however, knows that he can’t be the only contributor if the Capitals hope to come back in this series and advance.

"Today we play good," Ovechkin said. "It's not good enough. We're going to be better next game. Somebody thinks this series is over? It isn't."

The Capitals were more disciplined on the ice in game five, surrendering only two power-play opportunities, and they managed to capitalize on a mental lapse by the Penguins when Nicklas Backstrom scored in his third straight game, and set the Washington postseason record for consecutive games with a point by registering a point in his eighth straight game.

The previous mark was set by Geoff Courtnall in 1990.

Backstrom’s goal, 14:35 into the second, was a power play goal off of a beautiful give-and-go with Sergei Federov deep in the Penguin zone; That goal tied him with Penguin forward Evgeni Malkin for fourth in the NHL postseason scoring race with 14 points.

That disciplined style of play also held Sidney Crosby without a point for the first time in five games.

On a night where Washington did everything right, more couldn’t have gone wrong for the Capitals, as more heartbreak awaited them in overtime.

Pittsburgh became the first team to buck the trends of this series when they won, despite recording the first goal of the game, and they were also the first team to win on the road.

In the face of immense adversity, namely Sergei Gonchar’s injury, the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to outlast the Capitals on the strength of the strong play they received from their third line.

"They showed it at the end of the season, they showed it in the first round as well," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's a resolve in that room. There's character. We had the belief going out [for overtime] that we were going to get that goal."

After Ruslan Fedotenko tied the game at two goals a piece, just 51 seconds into the third period, Matt Cooke put the Penguins ahead, 3-2, at 6:27.

"When you have a third line in your lineup that can play like that, it adds another dimension to your team and it certainly was there tonight," Bylsma said.

After an Ovechkin goal tied the game at three with 4:08 remaining, the Penguins would get a fortuitous bounce in overtime for the second time in this series.

While Washington yielded only two power plays, none would prove as costly as the one they surrendered in overtime.

Streaking down ice, after drawing a tripping penalty on Milan Jurcina, Evgeni Malkin launched a cross-ice pass, intended for Sidney Crosby, that deflected off a sprawled out Tom Poti’s stick and past Varlamov for the Pittsburgh win.

"It's Malkin, so you can't give him too much time and space," Poti said. "It became a 2-on-1 and I tried to go down to take the pass away and take away his angle coming to the net. He tried to make the pass and it ended up going off my glove and my stick or something. An unfortunate bounce."

Anyone remember Kris Letang’s shot in game three that deflected into the Washington net after pin-balling it’s way off Capital’s defender Shaone Morrison?

Varlamov rebounded nicely after his worst game of the playoffs only a night before in Pittsburgh. The Capitals goaltender made 38 saves, and kept Washington in the game for as long as he could.

It may be only fitting that the game ended not off the stick of a Penguin, but off the stick of a Capital, especially after they had controlled so many aspects of the game up to that point.

"It's always hard when you play in overtime and you allow a silly goal like this," Varlamov said through an interpreter. "That's twice now...But winners make their own luck."

While it may be true that winner’s make their own luck, Washington was not without it’s chances.

Early into the overtime period David Steckel, who had been helping Washington’s third line take some of the load off of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, missed a wide open net when he couldn’t get the puck to settle on his stick for a clear shot.

"First shift, Stecks missed an empty net," Ovechkin said. "I said, 'Jesus, where is our luck?' The puck was bouncing, and next they got a power play and scored a goal."

While it appears that the hockey gods may be shining on Pittsburgh, Washington was in a very similar situation in their first round series against New York.

“It's another elimination game for us, we're sort of getting used to these," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "The desperation, the urgency, it's an elimination game for us, therefore every single shift is, I mean, that's it, it's end all, be all for us. We have to make sure we're prepared for Monday."

This series has been everything a hockey fan could want and more, game six is sure to provide many more memories.

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