Monday, May 11, 2009

Third Time's A Charm: Caps Force Game 7

Capitals 5, Penguins 4 OT
Scoresheet - Times - Post

In another action-packed, edge-of-your-seat, overtime-again game, the Washington Capitals steer away from another game six elimination and force game seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It would take overtime to decide the outcome for a third time in this series. Finally, the Caps get the breaks (kinda) and get the walk off goal to win game six 5-4.

Dave Steckel was the hero of game six. He deflected a Brooks Laich shot to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. It came 6:22 in the extra frame and the Caps poured on the ice to celebrate the game winner. Steckel nearly had a overtime goal in game five, it was sweet retribution for him.

"Been lucky enough to win a couple [face offs] tonight," said Steckel. "Matt [Bradley] made a great play on the wall to Brooksie. Like the other goals, it's about getting shots to the net and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Alex Ovechkin was clearly the Caps best player tonight. He didn't score a goal, but he had three assists and finished the game a plus 3. The best rating for any Capital. He only had 5 shots on net, but he is producing goals in other ways. The Caps also got contributions from Alex Semin who has been silent for most of the series. They also got goals from Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov, who scored twice in a game that has seen 4 lead changes.

The game didn't start how the Caps may have wanted. The Penguins came out with a full attack and a barrage of shots at Semyon Varlamov. It was obvious the Pens had no intentions of returning to Washington for a seventh game. They would take the early lead and the Caps' defense looked as if it were about to collapse. The first period would end with a 18 to 5 shot advantage going to the Pens. The Caps were just hoping to keep the dam from breaking.

"We knew we had to weather the storm in the first period," said Steckel to reporters about escaping the first period only one goal down. "They came out and got one. I thought we did a great job, we did get pucks deep, I thought we kept their perimeter shots outside, so it was great."

In the second period the Caps came out with a better effort, and they netted two goals as a reward. Kozlov breathed life back in the white team's bench with a pretty wrister that beat Fleury up over his shoulder. Kozzy's goal seemed to spark the Caps and Semin who started to be more of a factor in this series.

Semin was moving his feet, making plays and drawing penalties. When he was nearly sprung free on a break away, Semin drew a penalty on the Pens' defense. With the extra man, the Caps were able to maintain control (with Semin's help) and the puck went back to the extra attacker Sergei Fedorov at the point. The point shot bounced to the open side of the net to a waiting Fleischmann who buried the puck in the empty net. The Caps lead would not last long as the Penguins got a big goal at the end of the period off of another misplay by the Caps' defenseman.

Then early in the third, the Pens score to take the lead off of Kris Letang power play goal after Steckel was called for slashing in the offensive zone. But the Caps would get a power play of their own and Semin again helped his team score. He shot about half way on the boards with Laich in front of the net posting the perfect screen in front of Fleury. The puck had eyes as it beat Fleury and tied the game at 3.

Then just :29 seconds later, Kozlov took advantage of a little bit of miscommunication from the Pens as the puck was shot through the crease and Kozlov, at an extreme angle, shot the puck in as Hal Gill ran into his goaltender keeping him from getting over to make the save.

The stunned Mellon Arena crowd just saw their team's lead disappear like that. But there was still 14 minutes left in the third and the Caps were guilty of sitting back a bit too much. After keeping the Penguins at bay and some marvolous saves by Varlamov, the sitting back would bite the Caps in the butt as Sidney Crosby ties the game with under five minutes left in the game.

With the game tied, the referees felt they weren't getting enough attention. First they decided not to call a take down by Mark Eaton who tackled Semin in front of the net. Then they call a slash penalty on Laich who knocked Kris Kunitz's stick from his hand with 2:02 left. Cooke had one hand on his stick and was outstretched, a ticky-tack call. It nearly cost the Caps the game but they were able to fight off the late power play and regain some composure for the overtime period.

In the overtime, the Caps did a better job this time of limiting the Penguins' chances. The Pens still had some dynamite chances to score and one shot did be Varly and hit the crossbar. But it would be the Laich, Matt Bradley, Steckel line that would decide the out come. Steckel won the face off and Bradley was able to get the puck to Laich who was the top of the circle towards the boards. A shooting lane opened up for him and he shot it with Steckel breaking toward the net. Steckel got his stick on the shot and it bounce underneath Fleury.

"It just so happens that [Ovechkin] is so dominant and so good that we all talk about Alex, but that line of Stecks, Laich and Bradley were great all night," Boudreau said. "Kozzy getting two big goals and Varlamov standing as tall as any 21-year-old can stand."

Varlamov would finish game six by making 38 saves on 42 shots. While it looked like he overplayed the Penguins' first goal, he would come away with save after save that would keep the Caps in the game. His counterpart Fleury would make the big save here or there, but he didn't face the amount of shots Varly did. Fleury is being outplayed in this series and if the Caps do move on, it would be because of Varlamov outplaying the Pens' net minder.

The cardiac Caps once again get things done to force a game seven. The Penguins come into a game seven which they have never won when they have lost a game six in their playoff history. This is what home ice advantage is all about and the Penguins where trying their best not to return to the phone booth to face a team that just took an emotional win from their building.

Evgeni Malkin was good in this game getting the playmaker (three assists). Crosby gave it a valiant effort, but he could only score the game tying goal late in the third and an assist on an earlier goal. The high water mark for the Pens was probably the first period where they dominated the play and took the early lead. But for the fifth time in six games, the team that scored the opening goal lost.

For the Capitals to win the series, they will have to play much like they have in the previous two games: get the puck deep and crowd the net. That is where they have found success. Varly will have to keep up his good play, the scoring will have to come from every line and the defense has to keep everything in front of them.

"We've been through one before, we know what to expect," Steckel said. "It's a great win, especially on the road for us. This is all we could ask for. We just wanted a Game 7. It's not done yet."

The win is huge, but the job isn't done. Game seven. Wednesday night at 7 pm. No Yanni required. Rock the red. Let's Go Caps!

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