Once again the Penguins out skated, and outshot the Capitals, and once again the Capitals won by a single goal.
The three stars may have been Ovechkin, Crosby and Varlamov, but it was David Steckel’s goal in the second period that turned out to be the difference maker in a game that has been billed as “Sid the Kid vs. Alex the Great.”
The Capitals looked like they were skating at half-speed throughout most of the game, while the Penguins skated hard, and swarmed the puck at every opportunity.
Truly the game was infuriating to watch. Whenever the Penguins got the puck, they raced up the ice without delay. Whenever the Caps got the puck, they passed it around for a bit in their own zone, and then began to meander up through center ice before dumping it into the attacking zone or having it taken away from them.
The Penguins looked like they had endless energy; the Caps looked like they had just come off a three-day bender and were trying to skate off their hangover, but in the end, it was the Caps who found the back of the net most often.
Crosby scored first on a cheap little tip-in during a 5-on-4 power-play in the first period. Ovechkin scored early in the second with a wicked one-timer from the left face-off dot to tie the game at one.
Crosby scored again in the second period by standing in Varlamov’s hip pocket and tipping the puck past the goalie from point-blank range. It may not have been interference, but he was close enough that Varly could have been wearing him like the skin suit from Silence of the Lambs (I giggle when I think about Buffalo Bill wearing a Sidney Crosby skin suit and saying the things he said in the movie [things I can't type here as this blog is rated PG]).
It was David Steckel who tied the game up in the second period when he slapped a rebound past Fleury from just below the right face-off circle.
A little more than halfway through the third with the game tied at 2; The Caps begin a power play at the right face-off dot and four seconds later, Ovechkin nails a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle to beat Fleury once again and put the Caps up 3-2.
Two and a half minutes later, it began to rain hats at Verizon Center as Ovechkin nailed a slap-shot from between the face-off circles and got his first career playoff hat-trick. To find the last Capital to get a hat trick in the playoffs you’d have to go all the way back to 1993 and look at a guy named Al Iafrate (maybe you’ve heard of him). It took three and a half minutes to clean up all the hats, even as they continued to rain down amongst the chants of “MVP! MVP” The Caps were up 4-2 with a little more than 4 and a half minutes to play.
With roughly two minutes to go, the Penguins pulled Fleury for the extra attacker and the refs made it interesting when they called a cheap cross checking penalty on Milan Jurcina.
With 30-seconds left to play, and the Penguins now skating 6-on-4, Crosby had a rebound bounce onto his stick to the right of Varlamov and he slapped it into a surprised Tom Poti from point-blank range. The puck bounced right back to Crosby who again slapped it into a still stunned Poti. The puck again bounced back to Crosby who lifted this time and had the puck rainbow over Poti and Varlimov and just clear the top left corner of the net.
One lonely hat drifted down from the stands to celebrate Crosby’s third goal of the game. Of course, it could have been an accident and the hat got pulled off some poor fan’s head by how much Crosby sucks but either way It would be too little, too late.
Crosby may have gotten the second star of the game honors, and Ovechkin is credited with the game winner, but in the end it was the dynamic play of Simeon Varlamov and the under-rated goal by David Steckel that gave the Caps the edge and allowed them to win 4-3.
The real test comes Wednesday as the Caps travel to Pittsburgh with a two game advantage in the series. Expect Pittsburgh to play their hardest, and expect that the Igloo will be filled with ballpoint fans screaming “let’s go Pens!”
No one is going to pick the Caps to win game three. Commentators will briefly touch on Ovechkin’s hat-trick as a lead into talking about how great Crosby is, and how the Caps can’t stop him. They will talk about how Varlamov is starting to look a little shaky as he has given up five goals in the last two games (four of which were scored by Crosby) after only giving up six in the entire first round.
You better believe that they will consider game two a moral victory as the Pens finally got their power play going, and that coming home will be just the confidence booster Malkin and Staal need to make their presence felt.
The Caps are not being taken seriously…but they are winning games. The Penguins can outshoot, and outskate the Caps all they like, but in the end, the only stat that matters is the score.