Two good teams, five of six games decided by a goal, three overtime games (with all the winners changing directions off the initial shot) and a lot of bumps along the ride. Yup, it's spring and the Stanley Cup playoffs. One can't help but get the feeling if this was a best of 27 series we might be headed to a 13 to 13 game tie before the decisive game.
But two teams' seasons will going to come down to a single game Wednesday night in Washington.
- The Penguins again had shot dominance, throwing 42 shots to the net. Simeon Varlamov, though still an impressive young player, is not the impenetrable wall he was built up to be earlier in the series. Get it to the net and on the net and the light will go on. I think the Penguins can take heart in that and expect them to do exactly that.
- The stats don't look good for Marc-Andre Fleury, who suffered his first career NHL playoff overtime loss, just 19 saves on 24 shots. Commend his defense for stepping into shooting lanes and being willing to show heart. But when they bump or interfere with the goalie (like Bill Guerin did on Tomas Fleischmann's goal or Hal Gill did on Viktor Kozlov's second goal) and it's hard to expect the goalie to keep it out. The defense still needs to stand tall and play tough, but they also need to let their netminder do his job.
- Kozlov showed some confidence after a rare playoff goal on a great shot to open the scoring from the Caps. Very remeniscient of how Ruslan Fedotenko looked better after he scored a goal. Perhaps Kozlov doesn't even fling the puck on from a bad angle if he hadn't tallied earlier in the game.
- Down 2-1 almost after two periods, the Penguins showed some battle to even the score. Mark Eaton demonstrated incredible poise and patience to cradle the puck, wait for a better shooting lane and then let 'er rip. Down 4-3 with time running out in the game, Sidney Crosby was skating like a man possessed in the 3rd period and banged in a goal from right in front. The Pens have showed a lot of heart in battling back, so that's another positive. On the other side of the coin, they haven't been able to hold a lead very well at times, but the fact that there's been no quit in Pittsburgh is something I see as a plus going to the all important Game 7.
- Up 1-0 mid-way through the first the Penguins had a 5 on 3 advantage and the chance to really leave the Caps reeling. They didn't. Without mentioning how nice it would have been to have PP quarterback Sergei Gonchar out there, the Pens still had more than enough talent to make a play but they didn't. Credit Varlamov and the Caps for hanging tough, but the game likely would have been totally different if Pittsburgh strikes there.
- Alex Ovechkin moved the puck well to his teammates, a dimension of his games that he often doesn't use. Ovechkin "only" had 5 shots on net, which is low for him. And really I only recall one heavy slapper that seemed like a dangerous chance.
- Dan Bylsma again chose to dress 11 forwards and 7 defensemen and I'm not sure if that is working out too well. The two newer faces in the lineup, Alex Goligoski (6:58 of even strength ice-time) and Philippe Boucher (just 13:09 of total ice-time) haven't been given a chance to get into a rhythm. Clearly it's tough to replace your #1 defensemen, but with the whole defense often sliding around with multiple partners for different shifts, the results have seemed uneven. The Caps aren't pinning the Pens in their zone that much, but little communication and fimiliarity plays between the Pens as they start breakouts don't seem to be there. I almost think it'd be better to pick a guy and even things out for stabilities sake. But I haven't coached an NHL game, so what do I know.
- The game decider, fittingly came off a faceoff win by David Steckel. Steckel killed the Pens in the circle, winning 11 of his 15 draws. Brooks Laich did well to float a high shot to the goal and Steckel got a nice deflection. No chance for the goalie there.
- No one knows Gonchar's status --Bylsma keeps saying the injury isn't as bad as initially thought, which could be a smoke screen at this point. It's hard to not want and believe there could be a Willis Reed situation for Game 7. Remember that Reed only scored 4 points in that game, it was his mere presence that boosted the team to victory. And from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals last season, Gonchar's shown he already has a little flair for the dramatic. No one who knows is saying the severity of the injury, so it's probably too much to get our hopes up, but wouldn't it be awesome is all I'm sayin...
So now the season comes down to a single game. The battle of attrition has to be taking it's toll on both sides, but neither can afford to blink now. Must press on, must go on the road and take on the "us against the world" mentality. The 2008-09 Penguins season has been plagued with adversity and now's another chapter. If Pittsburgh can play like their capable and get a solid effort out of all their players, it won't be the final chapter. If they don't, it'll be curtains. That simple, really.