Capitals 4, Penguins 3
Scoresheet - Post - Times
Two superstars, two superstar performances. But both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin performed a "What ever you can do, I can do better" as each scored a hat trick. The teams' best players played up to the hype.
"We have to win the games," answered Ovechkin about his goals. "It doesn't matter if I score or somebody else score it's more important to win the game."
"I think it's great for our sport," Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said when asked about the pair's performance. "When you have hype of superstars playing against each other and then the superstars play like superstars, it's a neat thing [to watch]."
"They apparently heard the hype and are living up to it," Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's interesting to watch the two battle and watch the story unfold. They were both very good tonight. And Obviously huge factors in the game and rising to the occasion."
"It's nice to score, it's better to win," said Crosby of his hat trick.
Both teams were beneficiaries of three goals from their star players. But the deciding factor came from a fourth line role player in David Steckel. Steckel's game tying goal in the second set up Ovi's go ahead and insurance goals in the third. It was the second straight game that Steckel scored the tying goal. Once again the line of Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich were one of the best lines on the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Semyon Varlamov both were at the mercy of the other teams' big stars. Both played really well, but both allowed 3 goals with Fleury the only goaltender to give up that fourth goal. This is the first time in thirteen years that both teams had a player with a hat trick in the same game and it's only happened four times in playoff history, twice to a Capitals team (Al Iafrate had a hat trick while the Islanders' Ray Ferraro had four goals 4/26/1993).
It wasn't the prettiest game for the Capitals. At times the play was wide open allowing scoring chances on both ends of the ice. The Caps started off very poorly as the Pens came out with the jump and the early goal, for a second game in a row.
"We did better but not great," Steckel said of his team's overall performance. "We still turned the puck over an abundant amount of times and they came back. We didn't give up as many odd man rushes but we can always do better."
Crosby scored the game's first goal on the power play as he put in the point shot rebound under Varlamov. The first period would end with the Penguins up 1-0. The Caps were undisciplined as they took five penalties in the first period alone. Varlamov was the only thing keeping the Capitals in the game as the Penguins took their lead into the first intermission.
Ovechkin answered for the Caps with a pretty play to set up the Ovi one timer just 2:18 into the second period. The Caps had better puck movement through the second period but at times, got caught deep in their zone off of turnovers. Once again, Crosby scores down low to answer Ovi's goal. Steckel would tie it with less than five minutes left in the second.
In the third, both teams were at a tug of war. The Penguins turned up the pressure and drew an interference call on Milan Jurcina. But the Caps were able to fight it off and Evgeni Malkin, who has been a non factor for the Pens in this series thus far, took a bad tripping penalty. Ovechkin scored just 3 seconds into the power play to give the Capitals their first lead of the night. Not long after that goal, Ovi caught the Pens' defense off guard and scored his patent wrister through the defense that beat Fleury and gave him his first career playoff hat trick.
The Penguins made a last ditch effort to tie the game up and a late penalty by Jurcina would give them a chance to over load the Caps 6 on 4. The Caps did a good job of holding them at bay until the puck got down low. The puck jumped up in the air and Crosby whacked it in the net. He also scored his first career playoff hat trick and pulled the Pens within one.
During that play, dirty boy and not a nice man, Chris Kunitz, crossed checked Varlamov in the face mask. Mike Green saw the infraction but the officials didn't. Just another cheap shot by a player that has yet to score in this series or help out in any way other than being a sore loser.
Varlamov played very well, keeping up his great play as he has now started in more NHL playoff games than NHL regular season games. While he got beat for three goals by the same player, he came up big on every other Penguin. Including a dynamite save on a Kris Letang break away and a few out of this world saves while the Caps were killing off a 5 on 3. He stopped the puck down low and then coming out and stopping the point shot a split second later.
"He's made some timely saves," Crosby said of the Capitals' rookie goaltender. "The difference is a few inches but he battles and he competes. There are times were he is out of position but he finds a way to get a piece of his body on it."
This win caps a fifth straight playoff win by the Capitals, a franchise record. Sergei Fedorov surpassed Mario Lemiuex for points in the playoffs with his two assists tonight. Viktor Kozlov also had a pair of assists. Tyler Sloan, who was recalled after John Erskine was a scratch, had the primary assist on Steckel's goal. The Caps also did well in the face off circle winning 62% of their draws.
However, Boudreau was quick to point out that they haven't won anything just yet.
"The one thing we have learned from experience is you can't take for granted that you are going to be successful," Boudreau said. "When you playing good teams with a lot of character like Pittsburgh. It doesn't get any easier. If this was a game of tennis, we've held serve."
But it was Ovechkin and Crosby's night. The pair have accounted for 6 goals, 17 shots (Ovi 12, Crosby 5) and two first career playoff hat tricks.
"Its good for fans to see great players play against each other, two great teams play against each other," Ovi said of the superstars' efforts tonight. "It's interesting time, interesting game. It's unbelievable when you play against great players and you win the game like this."
"I am sure it's entertaining for people to watch," Crosby said. "As a player, you don't like seeing a guy on their team get a hat trick, that's usually not a good sign. But at the same time, yea I realize people are entertained by that. But at the end of the day as a player you want to win games."
Both Alex Semin and Malkin were non factors tonight in terms of scoring and both took bad penalties that the opposing team took advantage of.
The Capitals take game 2 to give themselves a 2-0 lead. They are the only team in the playoffs right now with a lead as the other series are all tied. But the Caps aren't whistling Dixie just yet. They have two games in Pittsburgh and are expecting an even better Penguin team in their barn. The series starts up again on Wednesday night.