Seen This Movie Before? – Three nights ago, the Caps were a shot away from taking a 3-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series. Now, they’re a loss away from cleaning out their lockers and scattering across the globe for the summer.
For the second time in the last three games, a Caps-Pens playoff game went to overtime. For the second time in the last three games, the Caps were unable to convert a prime scoring chance in the opening minute of the extra session. For the second time in the last three games, Pittsburgh won an overtime decision when a Washington defenseman inadvertently put the puck into his own net.
The worst nightmares of longtime Caps fans are now on the cusp of becoming reality. Pittsburgh and Washington have met seven times previous in best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series. The Penguins have won six of those series. In two of those three series losses, the Caps held a 3-1 series lead before collapsing. In another, the Caps were up 2-0 before bowing out.
Before losing each of the last three games to the Pens, the Caps held a 2-0 lead in this series, too.
After falling behind on Jordan Staal’s first goal of the series early in the second period of Game 5, the Caps responded quickly and evened the scored on Alex Ovechkin’s ninth goal of the playoffs 59 seconds later. Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps their first lead of the night with a power play goal at 14:35 of the middle period.
Having put together arguably their best 40 minutes of the series, the Capitals were 20 good minutes away from taking a 3-2 lead in the series and retaining home ice advantage. Unfortunately for the Capitals, what followed were seven bad minutes, seven flat minutes that ended up costing the Caps the game.
Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin made a great play to set up a Ruslan Fedotenko goal just 51 seconds into the final frame. Ex-Cap Matt Cooke pounced on a rebound – something the Pens have done with regularity and the Caps have done with scarcity in this series – and he beat Caps netminder Simeon Varlamov to give the Penguins a 3-2 edge at 6:27 of the third. Varlamov had stopped Cooke’s linemates – Staal and Tyler Kennedy – on successive shots prior to Cooke’s rebound strike.
Meanwhile, the Caps were still seeking their first shot of the period.
“Obviously we came out in the third and after the first shift when we got it in deep, then we kind of stopped playing hockey,” said Caps center David Steckel. “I don’t know if we sat back or they took two goals in five minutes or whatever it was. We needed to come out harder.”
Washington came back to life later in the period, and got the equalizer on a great pass from Backstrom to Ovechkin, who netted his 10th of the playoffs with 4:08 remaining in regulation.
Caps fans had to be hoping for one more regulation goal from their heroes, because overtime has not been historically kind to the Caps in the playoffs.
Steckel was unable to cash in on a strong scoring chance in the first minute of overtime, and soon afterwards, the Caps went shorthanded when Milan Jurcina was framed for tripping Malkin, In reality, it was Sergei Fedorov who was the culprit. Fedorov was forced to take Malkin down when the powerful winger beat him wide on his way to the net.
The Caps were seconds away from killing the penalty when Malkin skated along the right wing wall and threw a centering pass toward the middle of the ice where Sidney Crosby was going to the net, as he has done all series. Caps defenseman Tom Poti laid out to break up the pass and ended up deflecting into his own goal. The Pens had their third win in four nights and a 3-2 series lead.
History Lesson – For longtime Caps fans, the numbers are nightmarish. Washington is now 1-7 against the Penguins in playoff overtime games and 0-2 on home ice. The Capitals have now dropped seven straight overtime games in the playoffs and are now 1-8 in their last nine overtime playoff games.
Since 1990, the Caps have won just one overtime game at home. That was on Todd Krygier’s overtime game-winner – the final tally of his NHL career, as it turned out – on May 25, 1998 against Buffalo on the Eastern Conference final. The Caps are 1-7 in their last eight home overtime playoff games.
Each of Washington’s last four overtime losses at home in the playoffs has come on a power play goal from the opposition.
Please Don't Bury Me -- Washington now finds itself in familiar territory, on the verge of elimination. The Caps have played well in such situations over the last two years. Washington is 6-1 in "win or go home" games over the last two seasons, including the final game of the 2007-08 regular season.
Saint Nick – Backstrom has an eight-game scoring streak (three goals, ) to establish a Washington franchise record for longest postseason scoring streak.
Ovi – Ovechkin had another huge third period goal in Game 5, a routine occurrence for him during the regular season. Ovechkin’s 10 playoff goals leads the NHL, and his 17 points matches a Washington franchise record for most points in a playoff season.
Home Cooking – Washington lost Game 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series against the Rangers on home ice, but had won four straight on the Verizon Center sheet since.
Saturday night’s loss to the Pens ended that home playoff winning streak at four. The Caps have never won five straight home playoff games. They have won four in a row on home ice four times now.
Game 5 – Washington is now 8-18 all time in Game 5, and the Capitals are a staggering 0-8 in Game 5 against the Penguins. The Caps are 5-11 in Game 5 at home, and had won two straight Game 5s on home ice prior to Saturday night’s loss to the Pens.
The Capitals are 2-6 all-time in best-of-seven playoff series in which they came into Game 5 tied at two games each. The Caps’ previous wins in such situations came in 1990 against New Jersey and in 1991 against the New York Rangers.
Washington lost Game 5 to Pittsburgh in both 1996 and 2001 after being tied at 2-2.
League history shows that the winner of Game 5 in best-of-seven sets that were tied at 2-2 goes on to win the series 80.1% (162 of 201) of the time. Game 5 winners in 2-2 series went 1-1 in the first round of the playoffs this season. New Jersey won Game 5 over Carolina in the first round but lost the series while Chicago won Game 5 and went on to douse the Flames in six games.
Don’t Shoot – The Caps launched at least 35 shots on goal in each of their first four playoff games this season, going 1-3 in the process. Washington has had fewer than 30 shots on goal in six of its last eight games, going 5-3 in those contests.
Eight Is Not Enough – The Capitals recorded each of the first eight shots on goal in Saturday’s Game 5. The Penguins recorded the next eight. Neither team managed to put any of its eight shots into the opposing cage.
The two teams split the next eight shots, and the series had the first scoreless first period of the five games.
Two-Man Job – With ex-Cap defenseman Sergei Goncahr out of the lineup, Pens coach Dan Bylsma opted to dress seven defensemen for Saturday’s Game 5. Veteran Philippe Boucher made his first appearance of the series and the Pens also recalled blueliner Alex Goligoski from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Gonchar missed most of the 2008-09 regular season because of a shoulder injury he sustained in the preseason. The Pens were 27-24-5 (.527) when Gonchar returned to the lineup in mid-February; they were 18-4-4 (.769) the rest of the way.
Boucher skated 13:03 on Saturday while Goligoski logged 9:32, including 3:14 of power play time.
Gonchar is averaging 25:07 a night during the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Back-to-Back, Jack – Heading into Saturday night’s Game 5, Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had started both games of back-to-back contests on 22 occasions in his career. He had won both games of the back-to-backs exactly once before Saturday night, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Make that twice.
During the 2008-09 regular season, Fleur was 2-6 in the second half of back-to-back sets in which he had also started the first game. He posted a 3.45 goals against average in those eight games.
Down On The Farm – Like parent, like child. So far, the Hershey Bears’ East Division final series in the AHL Calder Cup playoffs with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins has mirrored the Stanley Cup playoff series of the two parent teams. And that’s bad news for the Bears.
After going up 2-0 in the series with wins on home ice in Games 1 and 2, Hershey has dropped three straight to the Baby Pens, losing three games in four nights on the road. Like the Caps, the Bears dropped Game 3 in overtime, narrowly missing a chance to take a 3-0 lead in the set. Like the Caps, the Bears find themselves on the brink of playoff elimination a mere three nights later.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took Game 5 by a 4-1 score on Saturday night. The Bears outshot the Pens 40-30 but Adam Berkhoel made 39 saves to put Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a win away from the Eastern Conference finals. Darren Reid scored Hershey’s lone goal in the losing effort. Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves in dropping his third straight decision after winning six straight to start the 2009 Calder Cup playoffs.
Game 6 is back in Hershey on Sunday. Game 7 – if necessary – would be in Hershey on Tuesday night.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays opened their best-of-seven American Conference final series on home ice against the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday night. The Stingrays led 3-0 and also led 6-1 on their way to a 7-4 win and a 1-0 series lead.
Matt Scherer and Michael Dubuc each had two goals and Scott Romfo had three helpers to pace the Stingrays’ attack. Jonathan Boutin made 26 stops in goal to earn the win.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PIT