Best of One – As hard as it would have been to believe before it started, the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the Capitals and the Penguins may have actually exceeded the pre-series hype that the North American hockey media heaped upon it. And after Washington’s 5-4 overtime win in Monday’s Game 6 in Pittsburgh, this set will get the Game 7 it so richly deserves, on Wednesday in Washington.
David Steckel’s goal at 6:22 of overtime made a winner of Washington, forcing Game 7. Steckel won an offensive zone draw from Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot, causing the Penguin pivot’s stick to break in the process. Steckel then went to the net.
Matt Bradley pushed the puck up the wall to Brooks Laich, who launched a shot toward the net. With his stick just above waist high, Steckel, jousting with Pens defenseman Philippe Boucher, got a blade on Laich’s shot, deflecting it past Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
For Steckel, it was his third goal of the series and the fifth time in eight postseason games (including AHL playoff contest) that he has beaten Fleury.
Steckel’s strike capped off a game full of high drama, lead changes, key saves and narrow misses. It was the fifth one-goal game in the six contests in the series, and the third to go to overtime. Each of the three overtime game-winners – two by the Penguins and one by the Caps – was the result of a deflection.
Not Going Down – Washington is now 7-1 in “win or go home” games over the last two seasons.
Reversal of Fortune – Overtime wins in the playoffs for Washington have been rare indeed over the last decade plus. Steckel’s overtime game-winner was the first supplied by a Capital since Jeff Halpern struck against the Pens in the extra session at Mellon Arena on April 18, 2001.
Steckel and Halpern are the only two Caps to score an overtime game-winner in the playoffs since Joé Juneau’s goal against the Sabres on June 4, 1998. Juneau’s goal won the Eastern Conference final for Washington and sent the Caps to the lone Stanley Cup final appearance of their history.
Steckel’s goal kept Washington’s postseason hopes alive; each of Washington’s last three playoff exits have come in overtime. Steckel’s goal also ended a skid of seven straight overtime losses for the Caps in the playoffs.
The Capitals are now 2-7 all-time in playoff overtime games against the Penguins.
The Great Eight –Alex Ovechkin did not add to his total of 10 playoff goals on this night, but he did have three assists. He is tied for the league lead (with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby) with 10 playoff goals and leads the league with 20 points, 87 shots on goal and a plus-11 defensive rating.
Kid Stuff – The stat sheet will show that Caps goaltender Simeon Varlamov was nicked for four goals in Monday’s Game 6. The sheet also shows that Varlamov made 38 saves. Although Varlamov might like to have another stab at one or two of those goals, he should take pride in the fact that he kept the Caps in this one and gave them a chance to win.
Pittsburgh came out firing, pouring 18 shots on the 21-year-old netminder in the first frame. Varlamov stopped 17 of those including four while Washington was down two men and already down a goal.
Fifteen of Varlamov’s 42 saves came against either Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Bill Guerin, the Penguins’ top gunners.
Varlamov has faced 42 shots in three of the last four games and has seen 36 or more shots in five of the six games in this series. After facing 145 shots in six games (24.2 per game) in the first round against the Rangers, Varlamov has seen 226 shots (37.7 per game) in the six games against Pittsburgh.
Nick Streak – With his helper on Viktor Kozlov’s second goal of the night, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom tallied his 12th assist of the postseason, one shy of matching the Caps’ all-time single season playoff record of 13 set by Andrei Nikolishin in 1998.
The Game 6 assist extended Backstrom’s franchise record scoring streak to nine straight games (three goals, eight assists). Backstrom is second in the NHL in playoff assists and is fifth in the league in playoff scoring with 15 points. Fight The Power – Pittsburgh scored a pair of power play goals in Monday’s Game 6, but the Caps managed to win anyway. Washington was just 5-10-1 during the regular season in games in which it surrendered more than one power play goal in the same game.
Ironically, the Caps are now 3-1 in postseason games in which they’ve allowed more than one power play goal in a game.
The Capitals themselves were 17-2-1 during the regular season in games when they scored multiple power play goals in the same contest. Washington is 2-1 in such games in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Quick Strikes – Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang put the Pens ahead with a power play goal at 4:40 of the third period, just nine seconds after Steckel had gone off for a slashing violation.
Only 43 seconds after Letang gave the Pens the lead, Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik hooked Alexander Semin and took a seat in the box. It took Semin and the Caps just 15 seconds to answer. Semin fired a shot from the half-wall that eluded Fleury, evening the game again. Although Semin was credited with the goal, it probably deflected in off Brooks Laich, who was parked at the top of the paint blocking Fleury’s vision.
Secondary Scoring – Washington got goals from some sources that had been on the quiet side of late. Kozlov’s two goals were his first of the series, and doubled his playoff total for this season. Tomas Fleischmann scored his third of the playoffs, second of the series and first since Game 1. Regardless of whether Semin or Laich gets credit for Washington’s third goal, it will be the first of the series for either. Steckel’s goal was his third of the series and first since Game 2.
Coming into Monday’s game, Ovechkin and Backstrom had combined for 10 of the Caps’ 15 goals in the series.
Early/Late Disparity – In the entire postseason history between the Capitals and the Penguins – which now encompasses eight different series – the Capitals are a respectable 17-15 against Pittsburgh in Games 1-4 of the series. However, even after tonight’s win, Washington is just 2-14 in Games 5-7.
Working Overtime – This series between Washington and Pittsburgh has had three overtime games, matching the most in a single playoff series in Capitals history.
Washington went to overtime in three consecutive games with the New York Islanders in the 1993 Patrick Division Semifinals. The Caps and Bruins needed three overtime games to settle their first-round series in the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs and Washington and Buffalo went to overtime three times in six games in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals.
Star Struck – Crosby and Malkin have had a hand in 16 of 22 Penguins goals in this series.
Net Effect – The Caps had a tough task in facing Fleury on home ice in Game 6. heading into Monday’s game at Mellon Arena, Fleury boasted a 13-3 career playoff record on home ice with a 1.88 GAA, a .930 save pct. and three shutouts.
Down on the Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Cincinnati Cyclones on Monday night in Game 2 of the American Conference final series between the two teams. The Stingrays went into the game with a 1-0 series lead after taking Game 1 by a 7-4 count on Saturday night at North Charleston Coliseum.
The Cyclones scored first on Monday, denting South Carolina goaltender Jonathan Boutin at the 3:55 mark. The Stingrays’ Michael Dubuc got that one back midway through the first frame, and then Maxime Lacroix put the Rays on top by a 2-1 score at 4:52 of the second period.
The Stingrays nursed that one-goal lead into the late stages of the contest until Trent Campbell potted an empty-netter in the final minute to give South Carolina a 3-1 win in Game 2 and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. South Carolina enjoyed a 43-19 advantage in shots on goal. Boutin ran his record to 9-2 in the Kelly Cup playoffs this spring.
Game 3 is Wednesday in Cincinnati.
The AHL Hershey Bears play Game 7 in their East Division final series in the Calder Cup playoffs on Tuesday at Giant Center against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Bears forced the deciding Game 7 on Sunday when they defeated the Baby Pens in Game 6 at Giant Center.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH