CHECK OUT MORE PENS ARTICLE AT http://bendersports.blogspot.com/
By Bryan DeArdo
Barely 22 minutes into the Penguins-Capitals Game 7 matchup, the game was over.
Like a champion boxer, the Pens avoided an early knockout, responded with damaging blows of their own, then befuddled their opponent with furious combinations. By the time Kris Letang scored at the 2:12 mark of the second period, the Pens were ahead 4-0, with all of the previous drama that the series had created now seemingly a faded memory.
The last two goals were just for good measure.
The final knockout punch was delivered by none other than Sidney Crosby. After being stuck in the face by the stick of Brooks Laich, the NHL's best player struck down the Caps for good on the ensuing power play. Playing with the reckless abandon of a team down 5-1 to start the third period, the Cap's Alex Ovechkin drove outmanned through the Pen's zone. With the aid of ever-improving Miroslav Satan, Crosby pick-pocketed Ovechkin, and had an unimpeded path toward the Cap's petrified backup goalie, Jose Theodore. With the entire hockey world watching, Crosby put the Capitals out of their misery and officially out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. His goal-a double-deek right under Theodore's legs-put the Pens up 6-1 with barely two minutes gone in the final period, en route to a 6-2 victory.
Let's not forget, however, how the Pens were put in such a luxurious position in the first place.
While the Pens won the 10-round bout, Washington nearly had a first-round TKO. Not even three minutes into the game and the contest still scoreless, Ovechkin nearly stole the show and the series. After an errant Pen's pass was corralled by Ovechkin, he scorched down all alone toward Fleury. With the Verizon Center getting ready to explode in celebration, Fleury's high glove save crashed the party, and ensured that the game's momentum would wear black and gold.
Less than five minutes later, Crosby put the Pens up 1-0, with assists from returning hero Sergei Gonchar (who proved that the best revenge is living well) and Evgeni Malkin, who had two assists on the night. Bill Guerin, a great mid-season acquisition by GM Ray Shero, and Jordan Staal (who was assisted by Satan, who had two helpers on the night) added to the scoring frenzy.
Every facet of the Pen's game was on point on this night. The often maligned Penguins special teams shined, scoring two power-play goals, and were never undermanned against the Capitals. That's not just great hockey, but smart hockey.
In the end, the best team in the league over the last two months defeated a team that has improved, but does not yet have the complete package to contend for The Cup. Cap's goaltender Simeon Varlamov played beyond his years at times in the postseason, but his lack of playoff experience showed face in too many pivotal moments in the Pen's series. He single-handedly kept Washington alive with his 38 save effort in Game 6, but could not duplicate that success in Game 7.
For Penguins fans, this roller coaster ride continues. The unorthodox Pens, who were in 10th place two-thirds of the way through the season, will have home ice for their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes, another team that got hot at the right time and that has won a Game 7 on the road (against the top-seeded Boston Bruins).
Carolina (along with their assistant coach and former Pen's great Ron Francis) will be another formidable foe for the Pittsburgh to contend with, but with how well this team is gelling right now and the mental toughness they have displayed throughout this crazy season, I like their chances.