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All that talk about the Penguins' offense being top-heavy? Yeah, it pretty much stayed exactly the same on Monday night. Sidney Crosby scored each and every Pittsburgh goal, matching Alex Ovechkin's hat trick, but it was that one extra from the Capitals' Dave Steckel that was the difference, giving the Capitals a 2-0 series lead heading back to the Steel City.

King Crosby scored the game's first goal in a tightly-officiated first period that "featured" seven penalties. The goal was a rare success for the strugggggling Penguin power play, which had previously been in a 1-for-24 slump. The Pens held a 1-0 lead at the intermission of a highly entertaining first stanza that had ample hits, shots, and excitement. Unfortunately, games are 60 minutes long, not 20.

Ovechkin tied it at one on a one-timer at 2:18 of the second, on a setup from Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov. Crosby answered about eight minutes later, putting the Penguins up 2-1. It's an early candidate for photo of the year:

But Steckel crashed the Crosby-Ovie party at the 15:49 mark with his second goal of the series, knotting the score at two going into the final period.

The third period is one that will and should haunt Penguin fans for some time, watching Ovechkin take over with two goals to put Washington in the lead for good. The crucial third Capital goal came just four seconds after an Evgeni Malkin tripping penalty; the fourth was a tough Ovechkin wrister less than four minutes later. The Verizon Center was in a frenzy, and the Penguins looked helpless, unable to capitalize on two Milan Jurcina penalties in the final frame.

Crosby once again displayed his never-say-die spirit by scoring with the extra man at 19:29 of the third, getting Petr Sykora onto the stat sheet in the process. But it was too little, too late for the flightless birds, who are searching for answers after a winless trip to D.C.

Simeon Varlamov proved that he is every bit for real with his 33-save performance, coming up huge on numerous occasions. His playoff numbers so far? 6-2, .918 save percentage, 2.37 GAA. Not bad for a 21-year-old with five career regular season starts.

On the Penguin side of things, there's ample room for improvement. Malkin was nearly invisible, save for his backbreaking penalty in the third period. Fleury and the defensive effort was generally unspectacular. The power play, although successful, look unorganized and sloppy at the wrong times. And the team got crushed in faceoffs, 38-22. Yes, this could be a short series unless things turn around quickly.

From an entertainment angle, the league has to be very happy. It was just the fourth time in playoff history that opposing players had hat tricks, and in a bit of dual history, it was the first for both Crosby and Ovechkin. To top things off, the game led the 11 PM SportsCenter, which rarely happens. There's no doubt that this series has garnered national attention. But at this point, it's wins, not attention, that matters most to the Penguins.

Capitals 4, Penguins 3 [ESPN]
Empty Netters recap [PG]

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Jeff_King_Fan said...

get ready pittsburgh sports fans, what is about to happen in this series will be epic. the penguins will win this series in 7, i guarentee it. that doesnt mean much coming from someone you dont know, but i also predicted HHH would beat randy orton at wrestlemania. so i'm on a roll.

Unknown said...
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Steve said...

Like I tell everyone who makes bold predictions and guarantees, if you're right, awesome and let me buy you a beer! but if you're wrong, please don't ever give your opinion again.

I have very a different idea of how this series will end and I'll leave it at that.

BurressWithButterflywings said...

I don't feel the Pens are being manhandled out there, but I would like to see a little bit more help from the supporting cast. Everyone is getting on top of Geno, but Sykkie, Cooke, Staal, Dupuis, etc. should all be getting on the stat sheet a little more often. Kunitz and Guerin as well.

Fleury wasn't at his best, but that was a winnable game and we missed a lot of opportunities to take a 2 goal lead when that may have been backbreaking to the Caps.

johnny said...

Staal is playing good two-way hockey, but it would be nice to see him end up with some assists or a goal for the effort. He's been an absolute beast on the PK so far, though.

Still, we definitely need some contributions from the 3rd and 4th lines.

Jeff_King_Fan said...

steve, if i'm right, i'll accept your beer. if i'm wrong, i'll drink a zima.

nuthinhere said...

It would be real nice if the other Pens not named Crosby would like, you know, show the hell up. This is gonna be a short series if they don't. Even worse, I live in DC and I'll never hear the end of it from the fair weather hockey fans they have here.