The Pittsburgh Penguins totally outplayed the Washington Capitals on Wednesday in game three, outshooting the Caps, 42-23, but because of Simeon Varlamov and a late power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom, his first of the playoffs, this game went to overtime tied 2-2. But after Tom Poti made a bad decision to try and shoot the puck instead of dumping it in behind the Pens net, the Penguins were able to get an offensive zone face-off and when the Caps lost it clean (Sydney Crosby beat Dave Steckel), the puck went back to Kris Letang who fired it on net and it hit Shaone Morrisonn and deflected by Varlamov for a 3-2 win at 11:23 of OT. Game four is Friday night in Pittsburgh with Washington up two games to one in this best of seven series.
The Caps played a better first period tonight and Alexander Ovechkin scored his 8th goal of the playoffs into a vacated net just 1:23 in to the game as a result of a fluky bounce behind the Pens net. Shortly thereafter, Nicklas Backstrom nearly made it 2-0 when he had a great wraparound try but instead of putting his shoulder down and taking that extra half of a stride to get in front for the layup he tried to put the puck in from a bad angle and it went through the crease and wide. The first period was even at eight shots a piece but as things went on Pittsburgh started to dominate.
Pittsburgh would carry the play and shots, 15-4, in the second period as their pressure on Washington was relentless. The Caps could not break the Penguins forecheck and when they got to neutral ice they did not play smart by dumping the puck deep. The Pens tied the game at one midway through period two when Poti pinched at the Caps blue line and Backstrom got caught out of position giving the Penguins a two one break on Milan Jurcina. When Jurcina went down to cut off the pass the puck bounced right back on Ruslan Fedotenko’s stick and he shot it by Varlamov, who was sliding to his right in anticipation of a pass.The Penguins had two power plays in the middle period but Varlamov and some good penalty killing kept this game tied.
In the third period the Caps were a little better but Evgeni Malkin, who was really flying tonight, started to take over and he went through Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin before #28 hooked him to give the Penguins their sixth straight power play of the night. When you play with fire, you usually get burned and Malkin fired a great shot top shelf on a screened Varlamov to give the Pens a 2-1 lead with just 4:59 left. But credit the Caps for not quitting and when Pascal Dupuis was called for interference with 2:28 left the powerful Washington power play got their second chance of the night with Backstrom delivering as he banked it off of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). That sent the game into overtime where Pittsburgh prevailed and Fleury is now 4-0 in overtime games.
Here are my thoughts and analysis on this one:
Pittsburgh absolutely had to have this game and they sure played like it. Varlamov was great tonight and he was the only reason the Caps had a chance. The Penguins did a superb job of coming into Washington’s zone with speed as they were keeping a forward back, typically Malkin when it was his shift, and when the Caps pressured the Pens defense at the red line they would pass the puck back to #71, who then came through the neutral zone like a locomotive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have to make some tactical adjustments to interrupt this very effective Pittsburgh method of breaking Washington’s neutral zone defense.
The Caps could not match Pittsburgh’s desire tonight, plain and simple. Ovechkin, Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov were the only effective ones for the first half of the game but when Fedorov took what looked to be a butt end to the ribs from Hal Gill and missed the rest of the period, Boudreau had to adjust his lines. At that point Bruce went with Semin, Backstrom, and Ovechkin and they had some good shifts and others where they were not positionally sound (especially on the shift where Malkin went through all of them and drew a penalty).
Fedorov did return for the third period but he did not look as strong or effective as he had been before the injury. Kozlov had some good shifts.
If I am the Caps, I am calling up forward Keith Aucoin from Hershey for game four because Michael Nylander was terrible tonight in his 7:27 of ice time. Nylander looked lost out there and seemed to be afraid of being hit. Chris Clark, once again, was not very good and he only saw 6:35 of ice time. Boudreau is basically playing with only 10 forwards with those two struggling and it showed as the other Caps got worn out against the Pittsburgh assault.
Probably the best part of Washington’s game tonight was their penalty killing as they held Pittsburgh to 1 for 7, including a two minute power play in overtime when Brian Pothier put the puck over the glass for a delay of game. Varlamov was the primary reason the penalty kill was effective but Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and the Caps defensemen did a good job.
Mike Green had an assist tonight on Ovechkin’s goal but he did not factor in offensively, primarily because the Caps could not get the puck into the Pittsburgh end. He also had some chances where the puck rolled off of his stick. Ovechkin also tried to go one-on-one quite a bit but Rob Scuderi and Gill did a good job on him. Boudreau was not getting the matchups he wanted since Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma had the last change. In Washington, Boudreau tried to put the Great #8 against Sergei Gonchar when the opportunity presented itself.
This Penguins domination tonight was just a carry over from alot of what we saw in game two. The Caps escaped in that one but if they don’t start skating and playing smarter they will not win another game in this series. The Penguins are winning the one-on-one battles right now.