The Washington Capitals are now 0-8 in game fives against Pittsburgh in the eight times these two teams have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This one though, if the Caps don’t come back on Monday night in Pittsburgh and force a game seven (that would be in Washington on Wednesday night), will really sting all summer long since the Caps had a 2-1 lead going into the third period on Saturday night. The good news is that this Caps team is 6-1 in elimination games over the last two seasons (won on the last night of regular season to make playoffs in 2008, won games five and six before losing to Philly in round one in 2008, and, of course, this year they won the last three games against the Rangers in round one) so you can bet that Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad will not quit.
It was almost a Caps victory as Washington’s Dave Steckel appeared to be in position to win the game at the outset of overtime but his rebound shot at a seemingly open net went wide (it looked like the puck bounced a bit on him).
Alexander Ovechkin is doing his part right now to try and carry the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals as he had two more goals along with an assist tonight. Both of the Great #8’s goals were key game tying tallies with the last one coming with just 4:08 left in the contest. Ovechkin was +1 and also had six hits and two takeaways but he did have two giveaways. He attempted 12 shots and five made it on net, three were blocked, and four missed the net. The Great #8 now has 10 goals and 7 assists in 12 playoff games.
Nicklas Backstrom was the best Cap on the ice tonight, making up for a not so good game four, with a goal and an assist plus seven shots on net in 25:25 of ice time.
The bad news is Washington’s Alexander Semin continues to hurt his team in this playoff series. Semin has been nothing like the player who was so good in last year’s first round series with the Flyers and this year’s first round win over New York. In the Penguins series he has 0 goals, only 4 assists and is a -5, not to mention he has repeatedly turned the puck over at the Pittsburgh blue line. Right before the Penguins Evgeni Malkin (game’s number one star) would go the other way and draw a penalty that led to the winning overtime goal, which #71 scored, Semin tried to go through at least three Penguins and ended up turning the puck over instead of just opting for the smart play by dumping it deep.
Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL but he can’t beat the combination of Malkin and Sidney Crosby alone, #28 needs to start showing up by playing smarter and more physical. I watched him take a puck off the back of his leg earlier in the series so he probably is hurting a bit and Pens defensmen Brooks Orpik seems to have done a good job of getting into Semin’s grill, however, this is the playoffs so the Caps need this guy to man up and come back to help them win this series. If Semin can’t help the Caps get it done on Monday night then I see no reason why GM George McPhee should give him the big contract he will likely want after the 2009-10 season.
If the Caps want to win game six they need to clean up some glaring mistakes they are making in their game. Specifically, they are not getting the puck deep in the offensive zone because they are turning it over too much at the Penguins blue line, they are not putting enough shots and traffic on Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre-Fleury (the Pens have outshot the Caps in every game in this series, it was 42-31 in game five), and they are making costly errors away from the puck that is allowing the Penguins to score. This combination of miscues has combined to cause them to lose the last three games of this series.
Washington blew a one goal lead going into the third period tonight by standing around and not playing away from the puck in the first ten minutes. Ruslan Fedotenko scored to tie it at two thanks to a great drop pass by Malkin, who came flying in the zone with a lot of the speed we saw him display in game three. Then just 6:51 into the third period the Pens took the lead when Simeon Varlamov (38 saves in a decent performance) juggled a Jordan Staal (1 goal, 1 assist) shot and while three Capitals all stood around and seemingly watched, both Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke whacked at it, with Cooke finally putting it by #40.
All too often in this series we’ve seen Pittsburgh score goals while several Capitals were in some position to prevent it. Staal’s opening goal of this contest in the second period was another play where the Caps had numbers on Pittsburgh but for some reason Shaone Morrisonn decided to leave Staal alone in a scoring position to chase Miroslav Satan below the goal line (#81 could not score from there so why Mo left his man is beyond me?). Mike Green, who set up the late Ovechkin tying goal but still is not producing at a level needed for the Caps to win, was not covering anyone at the right side of the net on the play. It is very evident that the Caps struggle to play away from the puck because a team that does that well would not allow these type of goals. In this series, Crosby and Bill Guerin have also had similar goals to the ones described above.
Washington did play some of their best hockey of the series at times but it was not consistent, especially at the start of the third period when the crowd was loud and ready to help the Caps take command of this series. Ovechkin clearly noticed the drop off in play.
“I think we play a good first two periods and in the first 10 minutes of the third period, we just stop playing. We just stop moving the puck at their D[efense]. I think we just try to protect our own end. They made great plays and scored two goals,” said the Great #8.
I asked Ovechkin what his team could do better in the next game.
“We need to just play a simple game. Get pucks deep and put pressure on their defense,” he replied. This is the message Boudreau has been preaching to his team all season and especially in the playoffs but it seems to get lost on the Caps at times, including Ovechkin, who made a couple of bad passes at the Pens blue line. But the Great #8, for the most part, has atoned for those mistakes by scoring or setting up goals, but as I mentioned above the biggest culprit on the turnovers and inability to get shots on net or put the puck deep is definitely Semin.
I asked Crosby why he thought the Penguins were doing such a good job of creating Washington turnovers.
“I think there are different things each and every time. A lot of which starts with your defensemen; your defenseman has to have a good game. If they are tight to their boards, it doesn’t give them a lot of space to work with. Our forwards have to come back hard in order for our [defense] to be able to step up like that. It’s a group effort out there and they [Washington Capitals] have a lot of speed and it’s not easy to do that a lot of times, but between the [defense] stepping up and doing a good job, keeping the gap, and forwards coming back hard, we have been able to do that,” said #87, who didn’t have a point on the night but was the intended recipient of the Malkin attempted pass that Tom Poti knocked into his own net with his stick by diving to the ice.
Poti, who had a good game up until that point, was asked about the play and how it happened.
“Their guy is coming in down the wall. I think he beat our guy [Sergei Fedorov] wide. You know it’s Malkin so you can’t give him too much time and space and it became a two-on-one and I tried to go down to take the pass away and I tried to take away his angle coming into the net and he tried to make the pass and it went off my glove or my stick or something, just a bounce, an unfortunate bounce,” said #3.
He was then asked if he would do anything differently on the play.
“I don’t know. It’s tough because if you give him too much space to come in, he’s a guy who can make that play and score the goal so I don’t think there’s anything I’d do different again. It’s just an unlucky bounce and there’s nothing you can really do about it,” finished Poti, who played 22:49 and had an assist on the first Ovechkin goal in the second period (just 59 seconds after Staal’s initial tally).
In reality, leaving his feet was not the high percentage play at that point so he should have stayed up and protected the ice. Varlamov was in good position to bat the pass the away so this was another example of Washington not playing properly away from the puck. Sure it could be called a lucky bounce but winning teams find ways to create the breaks, in this case with Malkin’s speed, while the losing team can prevent them by playing smarter, and Poti diving on that play was the wrong decision.
For hockey fans, this was a fun game to watch because of the back and forth nature of it. It was unstructured at times, especially in the third period, and I asked Boudreau what his thoughts on it were.
“They had the most come from behind wins in the NHL this year so we knew they were going to come out and be very aggressive and they did. Fedotenko’s goal all of a sudden gave them life and we were on our heels a little bit and once we got behind we played a little bit more relaxed, I thought, we played better. It was an up and down game, it was a heckuva game,” finished Boudreau.
Notes: The Penguins called up Alex Goligoski from Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the AHL with Sergei Gonchar injured. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma opted to dress seven defensemen also inserting Phillipe Boucher and scratching forward Pascal Dupuis. I saw Gonchar walking without a pronounced limp after the game so perhaps is injury is not as serious as originally thought? John Erskine returned to the lineup on defense and Tyler Sloan was scratched. Jay Beagle and Chris Clark all played the fewest minutes of any other skaters at 4:13 and 5:33, respectively. With the Caps trailing in the final 10 minutes Boudreau switched Fedorov back to defense in an effort to move the puck up the ice more efficiently. It seemed to work as the Caps started to carry the play before tying it on Ovechkin’s goal. The Caps won the face-off battle, 33-27. Each team had only two power plays and there were only 16 minutes of total penalties. Eight of them occurred in a scrum between Erskine, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Brooks Orpik at the end of the first period.