Alexander Ovechkin stepped up big time tonight and carried the Washington Capitals when they needed it most, scoring two goals, two and a half minutes apart late in the third period to give the Caps a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and take a two games to none lead in this best of seven game series. The Great #8 also tallied in the second period and recorded his first ever playoff hat trick. Sidney Crosby also notched a hat trick and he almost single handily won the game for his Pens, if not for Ovechkin’s scoring outburst. Game 3 is Wednesday night at 7pm in Pittsburgh. Don’t forget to come out to WNST’s Rock the Red party with Nestor Aparacio at the Silver Spring Mining Company on Belair Road in Perry Hall this Wednesday.
The other differences for the Caps in the game tonight were the great goaltending of Simeon Varlamov (33 saves) and a big goal once again from Dave Steckel, his second in as many games in this series. Varlamov made the big save when the Caps needed it several times on Monday, especially when they trailed 1-0 and then 2-1.
“It’s his fourteenth game. I mean, he competes really hard and he doesn’t get down if a goal goes in against him which is really good. I think he can let it go, so far anyway from what I’ve seen. So that’s a good sign,” said Boudreau of his rookie goalie, who set a Capitals franchise record for consecutive playoff wins by a goalie on Monday night (five games).
The Caps had another bad start as Pittsburgh dominated the first five minutes and took a 1-0 lead at 6:38 on Crosby’s power play goal. In addition, the Penguins carried the play for most of the night, primarily because they were winning most of the one on one battles and they were doing a much better job of dumping the puck into Washington’s end and forechecking. Washington still has a tough time getting the puck deep so far in this series. I asked Ovechkin, who after game one said the team needed to minimize their giveaways and play better, how he would assess tonight’s effort.
“Again we start bad. We take two bad penalties. Sasha [Alex Semin] take bad penalty and they score goal. After 1st period we talk about playing simple. If you remember the game against the Rangers, Avery hit [John Erskine] in the face and Erskie just forget it and we get power play. So we need to do the same job and get back to how we played against the Rangers. We have to be ourselves and not be selfish,” said Ovechkin, who now has seven goals and four assist in nine playoff games this post season.
For the fans and the tv network (Versus), this was a great game to watch as it had two superstars going at each other in a game that had alot of end to end flow.
“I think it is great for our sport. When you build the hype of superstars playing against one another and then the superstars play like superstars, it is a neat thing. It is fun to talk about that,” said Boudreau on the performances of Ovechkin and Crosby.
“I think it’s good for fans to see great players play against each other and two great teams play against each other. It’s unbelievable when we play against great players and you win the game like this. The whole team fought. It’s not about me and him, it’s all about the whole team,” added Ovechkin.
The one bad thing in this game tonight was the officiating and in the first period alone I thought the referees became too much of the show making some bad calls on both teams. I did not think that Jordan Staal’s hit warranted a charging penalty and I also thought Kris Letang got the puck before taking out Steckel’s feet on his near breakaway. On the flip side, the tripping penalty on Mike Green, that gave the Pens a five on three, was just terrible as Bill Guerin fell down on his own. Also, the Semin-Brooks Orpik scrum sure looked like a typical even it up situation, something Boudreau confirmed afterwards.
“I thought they were getting the initial penalty, that is why I got upset. When I looked at it on the replay it could have very easily been an even up call. Our guy started it and they are taking the guy that started it. Orpik did use the stick in [the groin] area. That is a battle to me, that’s a hockey playoff battle and those things go on all of the time. That is what makes hockey great.”
The teams each were called for seven minor penalties but a big one that was missed was at the end of the game right before Crosby scored his third goal with 31 seconds left to cut the Caps lead to one goal. Chris Kunitz cross checked Varalmov yet both referees Marc Joannette and Kelly Sutherland did not whistle a penalty and Boudreau thinks the play will be reviewed by the NHL.
“It was pretty vicious. I just saw it. It is a direct cross check to his throat just before Crosby scored. There was no puck there, nothing, we hope the league takes a long look at that,” finished Boudreau on the no call.
Overall the referees graded an F for me in the first period but they improved in the second and third periods. Former NHL official, Terry Gregson, is the supervisor for this series and it wouldn’t surprise me if Gregson said something to the two referees after the first period. When you have Ovechkin and Crosby plus alot of other skill on the ice the officials need to be consistent and not get carried away. Unfortunately they made a bad call on the Semin-Orpik scrum and it just snow balled from there.
Some of the other positives for the Caps was the play of the Steckel line, which includes Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich. Those guys worked their tails off on Monday and had the tough task of trying to slow down Crosby. Two of Crosby’s goals came on the power play and #87′s second goal of the night came because Green was unable to clear the puck and then stop Crosby in front of the net.
“Two shifts tonight they didn’t play against him, I don’t know how much more I can get them on the ice against Crosby,” said Boudreau, who will lose his last change advantage in games three and four since they are in Pittsburgh.
Also, Tyler Sloan, who was recalled with Karl Alzner today from Hershey, stepped in and played a very solid game for the injured Erksine. Sloan had an assist in 16:23 of ice team and drew praise from Boudreau.
“He was great. He didn’t miss a beat. We miss John Erskine but it just goes to show you why Hershey is up 2-0 and why they ended up first in their conference. They have great players down there and we’ll not hesitate to use any of them at any time. Most of them I know and I know what they can do and I have a lot of belief in them,” finished Boudreau on #89 and the depth in the Caps organization.
Other praise should go to every Caps penalty killer, especially Steckel who won several key face-offs (10-3 overall) and Tom Poti. Poti was just great tonight logging 20:07 of ice time, including 3:55 of shorthanded time, and was a +2. Pittsburgh had two power play goals but Washington killed off a huge 5 on 3 late in the first period.
Crosby thought that the Penguins could play better and he refused to give Varlamov too much credit, saying he “flopped around alot and was out of position.”
“When it comes down to it, they got a big goal on the power play and that’s the difference. I don’t see anything else aside from that. We had a lot of opportunities and I think we can honestly say that we did some really good things but we made a few mistakes that have hurt us. That can be a good thing to look at as well. To know that we are that close. These are things that we can easily identify and change quickly. But we have to do that,” said the #1 pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft.
On the negative side, Captain Clark took the aformentioned bad penalty and played only 6:02. He needs to do better and with Eric Fehr getting injured and not returning after only 2:09 of ice time, Washington may need to recall a player from Hershey for Wednesday’s game, unless Boudreau opts to go with the scratched Michael Nylander. If the Caps do dip down to the farm for a forward I think Keith Aucoin makes the most sense given his speed and tenacious style of play, plus he can score too.
For Pittsburgh, they need more from their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury (29 saves) and from Hart Trophy finalist Evgeni Malkin (1 assist and -2 on Monday). In fairness to Malkin, his linemates Petr Sykora and Ruslan Fedotenko have not played well in support. As for Washington, the Nicklas Backstrom, Semin, and Tomas Fleischmann trio was their weakest tonight and will need to get better. Backstrom has 0 goals in nine playoff games and he missed a great opportunity high of the net when Washington trailed 2-1 just past the midway point of the second period. Backstrom did win a key face-off that lead to the third Caps goal, but he was -1 and only 6-6 on face-offs in 20:19 of ice time.
In closing, the Caps are in good shape but both Boudreau and Ovechkin were very cautious about their position just two games into the series.
“The one thing we’ve learned from experience is you can’t take for granted that you’re going to be successful. We’ve tried to learn from experience and draw from last year and now we’re going to draw from last week where we had a two game deficit and when you’re playing good teams with a lot of character like Pittsburgh it doesn’t get any easier. They’re going to be home. All we really accomplished was, if this was a game of tennis, we’ve held serve. We’re happier to be up two than down two and that’s the way we’re looking at it right now,” said Boudreau.
“Sick game. Three goals by me and him. If I was a Capitals fan, I’d be really happy right now. We get the lead two in a row. Again, it’s a seven game series. We now have to get ready for our next game we have to play. We have to play simple. We took too many bad penalties in the first period. Sasha, Clarkie. It’s emotion. Sidney’s second goal was a mistake. It’s all about simple game right now,” finished Ovechkin.