As much as it pains me to say it, the right team won on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Kris Letang drove a shot that deflected off of Washington’s Shaone Morrisonn and past Simeon Varlamov at 11:23 of overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 win. The Capitals now lead the series, 2-games-to-1, with Game 4 set for Friday in Pittsburgh.
Fair being fair, Pittsburgh deserved to win Game 3. They vastly outplayed Washington in the 71 minutes of action.
The game featured up and down, end to end activity in the 3rd period and an amazing 11 minutes of overtime, with the Penguins controlling play throughout and owning at least a half-dozen quality scoring chances that were all turned away by Varlamov. The Caps killed an early power play in sudden death and sniffed around the Penguins goal on a handful of occasions, but the pedestrian efforts of Viktor Kozlov, Thomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich weren’t going to do any damage.
The Caps were offensively challenged all night, scoring a pair of fluke’ish goals — one coming early and one coming late — and failing to mount much of an attack throughout the game. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were the goal scorers, but that was about the extent of their respective contributions. Ovechkin was again seemingly more intent on leading the team in hits than in scoring and Backstrom squandered more chances than he converted. Early in overtime, Ovechkin avoided a sliding body and had the game on his stick from 15-feet out…but he whiffed on the shot. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Caps fan watching the game tonight who said, “Gotta score there if you consider yourself the best player in the league.” In overtime, in Game 3, with the balance of the series determined by the next red light…that puck has to go on goal. A whiff won’t get the job done.
The whole night seemed like a game the Penguins were desperate to win and a game the Caps were hoping they’d win. Pittsburgh outworked Washington in a big way in the 2nd and 3rd periods, particularly in the Caps defensive end, and if not for Varlamov it would have been a 4-1 or 5-1 final. To say Varlamov was brilliant in Game 3 would be an understatement.
It’s a new series, now, as the pressure shifts slightly to the Washington locker room for Game 4. Bruce Boudreau’s team must figure out a way to increase their offensive productivity and, at the same time, the Caps must also do a better job of cutting down on Pittsburgh’s quality scoring chances. What Washington really needs, more than anything else, is better production from Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin. It’s hard to heap more responsibility on The Great 8 — after all, he does have 5 goals in the 3-games so far — but his play in Wednesday’s Game 3 was spotty at best. Backstrom finally scored a goal after nine straight post-season games without a tally, but he was largely ineffective (again), as was Alexander Semin.
The series — offensively, at least — is about the trio of stars both teams possess. In Washington, it’s the aforementioned Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin and in Pittsburgh, it’s Crosby-Malkin-Staal. Malkin was the best player on the ice Wednesday night — by a longshot — and the one thing the Caps don’t need is for the big guy to start feeling his oats as the series progresses.
Washington’s still in good shape. They lead the series and have the knowledge that they’ll be heading back to the Verizon Center on Saturday for a Game #5 no matter what happens on Friday in Pittsburgh.
This one, though, was there for the taking in overtime and the Caps let it get away. This is how playoff series’ change. One chance. One goal. One game.
Let’s hope they’re not regretting the Game 3 loss on Sunday morning.