Saturday, May 09, 2009

Caps Squander Series Lead

Capitals 3, Penguins 4 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

History has a funny way of repeating itself. The Capitals have squandered a series lead of at least 2 games for a fifth time against the Pittsburgh Penguins in playoffs. In a game where the Caps played much better, sustaining pressure and getting pucks deep and letting the forecheck work for them, the Caps lose the heart breaker in overtime in similar fashion to game four. The Caps are pushed to the brink of elimination for a second series in a row as the Penguins win game five in overtime 4-3.

It was a game that everything seemed to work in the Caps favor. They were sustaining pressure, making good decisions with the puck in the neutral zone and playing pretty good defense. But the Penguins found away late in the game to get goals and get the overtime winner. The Caps did not even register a shot on net in the overtime period.

Alex Ovechkin gave another superstar effort. He tied the game after the Pens got the first goal by pulling up after gaining the zone and letting his wicked writer go. It beat Marc-Andre Fleury high glove in the top corner.

Then Nick Backstrom, who played his best playoff game ever, scored the Caps second goal on the power play. He had a good give and go with Sergei Fedorov and roofed the shot over Fleury's shoulder. The Caps would take the 2-1 lead into the locker room.

"[The Penguins] had the most come from behind wins in the NHL this year with 11," Bruce Boudreau said. "We knew they were going to come out very aggressive and they did."

The Penguins certainly did come back in the third netting two goals quickly to get the lead back. One of a nice shot from Ruslan Fedotenko and the other off a bad coverage in front of the net and Matt Cooke cashes in. It looked like the life just went out of the Capitals as they couldn't do anything quite right and the Pens laid back to play defense.

But that changed with just over five minutes left in the third when Boudreau put his best offensive players out on the ice. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Fedorov, Alex Semin and Mike Green made up a potent line that was meant only for one thing, score. They did as Backstrom fed Ovechkin a pass on the rush and Ovi beat an outstretched Fleury.

"Once we got a little behind we played a little more relaxed," Boudreau said. "I thought we played better. But it was an up and down game, a heck of a game."

Game five would go to overtime to settle it and the Penguins came out with a fire in their belly. After Dave Steckel had the only Capital chance in the overtime period, the Penguins went right to the net. Sidney Crosby rushed the net, knocking Semyon Varlamov over. Varly would shake it off, but not long afterward Evgeni Malkin would make a rush and Milan Jurcina was forced to take a penalty as Malkin muscled his way into open ice.

The Penguins power play didn't produce in the overtime until the very end. With just a second left in the penalty to Jurcina, Malkin created a turnover in the neutral zone and beat Fedorov along the boards forcing a two on one. Tom Poti was the lone defenseman back and he dove to prevent the pass to an open Penguin on the other side. But the puck bounced off of his block attempt and beat Varlamov to end the game and give the Pens the series lead.

"It happens to everybody in the National Hockey League," Brian Pothier said to reporters regarding the funny bounce off Poti that was the game winner. "Anybody who has played any length of time, you get fluky bounces. [Poti's] stick was probably in a great position. Nine times out of ten, he stops the puck and one fluky time it goes into the net.

"The timing unfortunate," Pothier continued. "but Tom is our steadiest and our best defenseman all year and it's not going to phase him. He is going to show up on Monday and he is going to be ready to perform again."

It was a horrible way for the game to end, but it is the second game in a row that those weird bounces have beaten the Capitals. This could be the back breaker for the Capitals who had put forth a much better effort than in the previous two games. The stunned fans could not believe their eyes as the Penguins poured off their bench to swarm Malkin and reveal in their second overtime win of the series.

"We will regroup tomorrow," Boudreau responded to a question on what he told his players following the overtime loss. "We have been in this position before. It's a tough hill to climb, but you just have to think of it as one game."

There were some positives to pull out of this game. The Caps held Crosby scoreless in the last two games and he was a minus two in this one. Backstrom played on of the better games he has played as a Capital. He finished the night with a goal and an assist and with seven shots.

"It's not over yet," said Backstrom. "I mean it's a tough series and it's hopefully going to go to seven games."

"It's a hard situation for us," Ovechkin told reporters following the game. "Next game is going to be biggest game for us."

"It's another elimination game for us," Pothier added. "We are sort of getting used to these. We just have to make sure to have some success on Monday."

The Caps do seem to play their best when their backs are to a wall. When the task is seemingly impossible, the Capitals thrive. They kind of like doing things the hard way. They are not in unfamiliar territory as this team will face elimination for the fourth time this post season. The game will be Monday night at 7 pm as the Caps will try to force a game seven back in Washington.

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