Kid Snuff – Washington goaltender Simeon Varlamov was tremendous in Washington’s seven-game opening-round series win over the New York Rangers. He allowed just seven goals in six games, pitched a pair of shutouts, allowed as many as three goals once (the last one with fewer than five seconds remaining), and fashioned a 1.17 GAA and a .953 save pct.
So the story heading into the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins was, how would the 21-year-old Russian rookie fare against a team with the Penguins’ firepower, speed and skill? The early returns are in; Varlamov was spectacular in stopping 34 of 36 Pittsburgh shots to help the Caps to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Pittsburgh.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby beat Varlamov early in the game, snapping a wrister past the young netminder at 4:09 of the first, before the Caps were even able to get a shot on Varlamov’s counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury.
After the Caps killed an interference penalty to Sergei Fedorov, Varlamov made three more quick saves in succession, keeping the Caps close despite Pittsburgh’s advantage in territorial play and its 11-2 advantage in shots on goal.
At that point, the game turned in Washington’s favor. The Caps won a defensive zone draw and went off down the ice with speed on a rush. Matt Bradley fired a shot from a deep angle and center David Steckel, crashing the net, got a stick on the rebound and directed it past Fleury to even the score.
After the Caps took a 2-1 lead, Varlamov made a great stop on Mark Eaton midway through the second before Eaton beat him at 12:54 on a floater from the point. With the game even at 2-2, Varlamov shot the door and shut it tight. He stopped the next 17 in succession, including a great stop on Petr Sykora and an all-time highlight reel stick save on Crosby with the Pens buzzing late in the second.
Fleury is the guy who backstopped his team to the Stanley Cup finals last spring, but the Pens goalie was bested by the Caps’ kid here today.
Four Straight – The victory was Varlamov’s fourth in succession, matching a Capitals franchise record for consecutive playoff wins. He is now 5-2 with a 1.29 GAA and a .950 save pct. in seven playoff starts this spring. Varlamov has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his seven Stanley Cup playoff starts.
Hard Hat – Steckel earned the hard hat for his yeoman work on Saturday. Besides his goal, he won 11 of 17 (65%) face-offs including six of seven in the final frame. Steckel, who averaged 13:49 a game during the regular season, skated 19:11 on Saturday. Included in that ice time was 5:43 of shorthanded ice time to lead all players from both sides.
Big Bad John – Prior to Saturday’s Game 1, Caps defenseman John Erskine talked about the Caps’ need to play physical against Pittsburgh’s talented group of forwards.
“We’ve got to shut them down and not give them the opportunity to carry the puck that much and play a physical game against them,” said Erskine.
On Saturday, the burly Caps blueliner backed it up. Playing 18:19 on the afternoon, Erskine dished out eight hits on the day, five more than any other player from either club.
In A Flash – After clanging a shot off the post in the first period – one of at least four Washington shots that rang iron on the afternoon – Caps left wing Tomas Fleischmann scored the first game-winning goal of his playoff career early in the third.
Parked atop the crease, Fleischmann converted a pair of pretty passes. The first was a slap pass from Alexander Semin to Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom then patiently waited for ex-Cap Sergei Gonchar to take himself out of the play before sliding a pass to Fleischmann, who roofed a shot over Fleury to give the Caps a 3-2 lead they’d hold the rest of the way. Fleischmann then absorbed a late hit from Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik after the tally.
Fleischmann went on two long playoff runs with the Hershey Bears in 2006 (when the Bears won the Calder Cup championship) and in 2007 (when Hershey fell to Hamilton in the Cup finals. Fleischmann finished second in playoff scoring in 2006 with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 20 games and was third in postseason scoring in 2007 with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 19 games.
He did not score a game-winner in either of those lengthy playoff runs with the Bears. Fleischmann has scored a Game 1 goal in each of Washington’s two playoff series this spring.
Continental Divide – Washington’s top six forwards are all European: Ovechkin, Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Fleischmann, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
Hot Hand – Bradley now has two goals and four points in eight playoff games this spring, and all four points have come in the last four games. He finished the regular season with five goals and 11 points in 81 games.
This One Goes to Eleven – Stecekel’s goal was his first of the playoffs. He became the 11th different player to find the back of the next for Washington in the team’s eight playoff games this spring.
Rare 5-on-3 -- Ovechkin is one of the game’s most lethal players, especially on the power play. But his power play goal in the first period of Saturday’s game against the Penguins was just his second with the two-man advantage since the start of the 2007-08 regular season. He has scored a total of 43 power play goals during that period of time.
Seen This Movie Before – Today’s Game 1 triumph over the Penguins runs Washington’s all-time record in Game 1 against Pittsburgh to 7-1. The Pens have won six of the previous seven Stanley Cup playoff series between the two teams.
Leaders – With a pair of assists on Saturday, Semin has pulled into a tie for the league scoring lead with 10 points (five goals, five assists). Backstrom’s two-helper game gives him a league leading nine assists in the postseason, and a four-game point streak (five assists).
Net Presents – According to the official game sheet, Washington was guilty of 22 giveaways on the day to Pittsburgh’s six.
Who’s Not Feeling It? – Some in the media made a big deal of Ovechkin allegedly being hurt going into the series with Pittsburgh. The Caps superstar left wing took Thursday’s practice off, a commonplace occurrence but one that fueled speculation that the Caps winger didn’t look right.
Pittsburgh is probably hoping Ovechkin doesn’t get better.
Ovechkin drew the penalty that led to the 5-on-3 power play on which Ovechkin scored. He had nine shots on goal, had another five blocked, had three that missed the net, blocked a pair of shots, and won both face-offs he took this afternoon.
He skated 21:13 on the day, about average considering the Caps only had two power plays in the game. Ovechkin was on the ice for 2:33 of Washington’s total of 3:01 in power play time.
On the other side, it was Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin who didn’t look quite right. He had two shots on goal and frequently passed up shooting opportunities in favor of trying to make a play. Malkin skated 20:49 on the afternoon, but got the lion’s share of his ice time in the third when he logged 8:58.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie