Still Need Two – For the final 1:50 of regulation and for the first 11-plus minutes of overtime, the Capitals were one shot away from being in a completely unfamiliar position – up three games to none in a playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kris Letang’s goal at 11:23 of overtime gave the Penguins a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between Pittsburgh and the Capitals. The goal kept the Caps from forging a daunting 3-0 series lead, instead enabling the Pens to make a series of it. Washington instead holds a 2-1 lead in the series with the pivotal Game 4 slated for Friday night here in Pittsburgh.
Washington grabbed an early lead on a fluke goal, going up 1-0 on its first shot of the game when Alex Ovechkin scored his eighth of the postseason. Mike Green’s dump-in from the red line took a wicked carom off a seam in the glass behind the Pittsburgh cage, bouncing directly into the high slot as Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury scrambled to get back in position. Ovechkin dove for the loose puck and fired it into the yawning cage.
Fleury was shaky in the early going, and the Caps were putting decent pressure on him. Washington moved the puck crisply and cleanly, generating scoring chances off the rush and threatening to pad its lead, a rare luxury in this series. (Of the 191:23 played in the three games, only 4:07 of it has been played with one of the two teams leading by more than a goal.) The Caps got the game’s first power play at 9:38 of the first period, but managed only a single shot on goal.
Soon after that, the Caps started a consistent stream of trips to the box. Washington was whistled for six minors during regulation, getting two in each period. The Caps were forced to kill a seventh Pittsburgh power play during the overtime session before Letang’s goal.
From the time Michael Nylander began the Caps’ string of minor penalties with an interference infraction at 12:47 of the first to the end of regulation, a span of 47:13, Washington was outshot by a total of 32-13.
Despite being outplayed and spending the majority of time in their own end of the ice, chasing rather than possessing the puck, the Caps managed to minimize prime Pittsburgh scoring chances. Goaltender Simeon Varlamov had the answer to the prime ones Pittsburgh did get, and the Caps nursed their 1-0 lead into the middle of the second period.
That's when Pittsburgh’s Ruslan Fedotenko broke down the right side on a 2-on-1 with the Caps’ Milan Jurcina as the lone man back. Fedotenko tried to slide a pass across to Maxime Talbot, and Jurcina expertly blunted it as Varlamov slid to cover Talbot. The puck bounced off Jurcina and right back to Fedotenko. He deposited the puck in the vacated side of the net to even the score at 1-1.
Washington spent most of the second and third period dodging bullets in its own end and watching as Varlamov continued to stymie the Pens. Finally, at 15:01 of the third, the Pens broke through when Evgeni Malkin ripped a wrist shot from the high slot that eluded Varlamov high and to the glove side. Malkin’s goal came on the Penguins’ sixth power play chance of the night, while Alexander Semin was serving a sentence for hooking.
The Caps got a late power play of their own after six straight Pittsburgh man advantages, and Washington made the best of its rare extra-man chance when Nicklas Backstrom banked a shot off Fleury’s backside and into the net with just 1:50 remaining in regulation.
Washington had a couple decent chances late in regulation, and two terrific ones early in the overtime. Ovechkin fanned on a bouncing pass from Backstrom in the first minute of the extra period. Seconds later, he carved to the high slot and found himself with enough time and space to unleash a shot from a spot from which he has scored frequently over the years. But before he could tee it up, the puck wobbled away from him and the scoring chance evaporated.
Letang’s game-winner came after Crosby beat Washington’s David Steckel on a draw in the Capitals’ end. The puck came back to Pens defenseman Mark Eaton, and he slid it to center point for a one-timer from Letang. The puck deflected off Caps defenseman Shaone Morrison and changed directions, ringing off the crossbar above Varlamov’s glove hand and going in. Steckel won nine of his 12 draws (75%) with Crosby on the night, but all three of his losses came in the Washington zone.
Letang joins a lengthy list of Penguins who have inflicted overtime playoff pain upon the Capitals over the years: Kevin Stevens, Luc Robitaille, Petr Nedved, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka.
History Lesson – Wednesday was Washington’s first overtime game in its 10 contests this spring. It had been the longest the Caps had gone between overtime playoff games since they went a franchise 17 straight games without needing an extra session.
In addition to being 1-6 all-time against Pittsburgh (1-5 in Pittsburgh) in Stanley Cup playoff overtime games, Washington is now 1-8 in postseason overtime games since Joé Juneau netted on a overtime game-winner at Buffalo on June 4, 1998. Juneau’s goal propelled the Caps to the lone Cup final appearance of their existence.
For the Penguins, Wednesday’s overtime win was its sixth in a row during the playoffs, the longest current streak in the league.
Kid Glove – Varlamov has now started nine games in the playoffs, going 6-3 with a pair of shutouts. He has yet to allow more than three goals in any, and has allowed exactly three goals in a trio of games. In each of those three games, the third goal was scored in the final minute of regulation or later.
Varlamov’s 1.64 GAA leads all NHL goaltenders during the postseason and his .942 save pct. ranks second only to Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller. Varlamov has allowed just 10 even-strength goals in his nine starts.
Hot Hands – Ovechkin’s first period goal in Wednesday’s game gives him goals in six of his last seven games. With eight goals in the playoffs, he is tied for the league lead in that department with Crosby. Ovechkin has 13 playoff points, third in the league and a point off the league lead in that category.
Backstrom’s late goal was his first of the playoffs and it extended his postseason scoring streak to six straight games. He is second in the league with 10 playoff assists and is tied for fifth in the NHL in playoff scoring with 11 points.
Heavy HItters -- The league's top three players in playoff hits are featured in the Caps-Pens series. Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik leads the league with 45 playoff hits. Washington's Ovechkin is second with 39 and the Caps' Jurcina is tied for third with 39.
In Wednesday's game, Jurcina had eight hits, Ovechkin had seven and Orpik had six.
Thirds – Even with Malkin’s third period goal in Game 3, Washington has allowed just five goals in the third periods of its 10 playoff games this spring. Each team had a goal in the final frame of tonight’s game; the Caps have outscored the Pens by a combined 13-3 in the third period of their four regular season and three postseason meetings in 2008-09.
Streak Stopper – Washington’s franchise record five-game postseason winning streak was halted on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. The Caps had outscored the opposition by a combined 18-9 in those five victories.
Tough Row To Hoe – This series marks the fifth best-of-seven series in which the Capitals have led a series 2-0. They have lost Game 3 of each of those five series, and have gone on to win only one of the previous four series. The Caps ousted Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series in 1998, taking the Sens out in five games.
Changing the Formula – In each of their last three games, the Caps surrendered the game’s first goal in the first period, were tied after two periods, and won the game in regulation time. Tonight they scored first, were tied after two periods and fell in overtime.
Road Warriors – Coming into Wednesday night’s Game 3 in Pittsburgh, the Caps had been playoff road warriors. Washington had won three of its last four on the road, outscoring the opposition 14-7 in the process.
Washington has also been strong away from Verizon Center over the final two-thirds of the regular season road slate. The Caps went 16-6-3 in their last 25 regular season road games, and were 2-1 in playoff road games before dropping Wednesday’s game at Mellon Arena.
Speaking of Mellon Arena, the Igloo had been a house of horrors for the Caps until the last two seasons. Washington’s luck in this town had just started to turn; the Caps ended a lengthy winless run in the Steel City with a victory in Jan. of 2008. Washington is 3-0-1 in its last four regular season contests in Pittsburgh.
Return Of 92 – Caps center Michael Nylander returned to the lineup for Washington in Wednesday’s Game 3. It was his first postseason action since Game 2 of the opening round series against New York.
Nylander finished with just 10 shifts totaling 7:27 on the night. He played one shift lasting 52 seconds from the start of the third period to the end of the game.
Washington is 0-3 with Nylander in the lineup during the playoffs; it is 6-1 in games in which he was scratched.
Big Guns – Malkin was a beast for the Penguins tonight. He led all skaters on both sides with 29:38 in ice time and nine shots on goal. Throughout portions of the second and third periods, he cut a wide swath and bored his way through the middle of the ice, which is how he scored the go-ahead goal for the Pens late in the third period on a Pittsburgh power play.
Crosby and Malkin have combined to score half (13 of 26) of Pittsburgh’s goals this postseason and have accounted for six of the Penguins’ seven goals on the power play in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Down On The Farm – Off in the northeastern corner of the state of Pennsylvania, the AHL Hershey Bears were playing Game 3 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, also looking to put a chokehold on their best-of-seven series with the Baby Pens. Hershey took a 2-0 series lead.
Just like the parent Capitals, the Bears went into overtime against the Baby Pens tied up 2-2. Hershey got goals from Graham Mink and Alexandre Giroux and a 38-save effort from Michal Neuvirth in goal, but fell to the Baby Pens by a 3-2 score in overtime.
The loss was Hershey’s first of this playoff season; it is now 6-1 overall. Mark Letestu scored the overtime game-winner at 4:48 of the extra session.
Pittsburgh got its Game 3 game-winner from Letang on its 42nd shot on goal of the evening while the Baby Pens won over the Bears on their 43rd shot on goal of the night.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays, despite being outshot 52-14, defeated the Florida Everblades by a 4-3 score on Tuesday night to finish off their second-round series and advance to the American Conference finals where they will face the Cincinnati Cyclones.
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