An NHL regular season game is just one of 82, a short segment of a long season. The highs can't be too high, the lows aren't too low.
Still believe that?
I didn't think so, either.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals engaged in a playoff atmosphere in the Verizon Center and definitely showed some playoff level intensity from start to finish. It was back and forth, high energy and definitely not your average regular season game, even if that's what it only counts for.
Mike Knuble started the scoring early in the second period when from right in Marc-Andre Fleury's crease he buried the bouncing rebound of Nicklas Backstrom's shot. The Penguins would quickly answer when Maxime Talbot got a fortunate deflection off a Brooks Orpik shot to elude Jose Theodore.
Bill Guerin scored his 19th of the year when Sidney Crosby made a sublime pass to the old man on the PP. The Pens would carry that 2-1 lead into the third, but couldn't close out the Caps. Alex Semin took advantage of Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang and the rest of the Pens' PP who didn't want to check him and snapped a beauty of a shot over Fleury's glove to tie the game. Riding the tide, Eric Fehr deflected a Mike Green shot to give Washington a 3-2 lead.
With just about 3 minutes to go, Jordan Staal took a beauty of wrister to send the game to overtime and eventually the shootout.
In the gimmick Kris Letang and Crosby started things off strong, scoring two early goals. But Fleury went to his favored pokecheck and couldn't stop Alex Ovechkin and Semin from tying the game. Guerin and Chris Kunitz couldn't score, but Knuble -- who's made a living scoring goals against Pittsburgh, snapped his first career shootout goal to end the game in Washington's favor.
- For perhaps the first time since June, the Penguins played a complete game with effort, intensity, hustle and emotion from start to finish. The result is disappointing, but there's no shootout come playoff time.
- A tenet of the Penguins playoff plan is to forecheck hard to wear down the defensemen, and take a lot of shots to eventually break down the goalie. In the hit department -- Ruslan Fedotenko (5), Matt Cooke (4), Tyler Kennedy (3), Kunitz (2), Mike Rupp (2) all did their jobs. For shots, the Pens poured 42 on Theodore, every player except the seldom used Jay McKee put at least a shot on target.
- Given all of that, you have to like the way the Pens looked. Over a course of a seven game series those things will begin to tip the balance, just as they did last spring when the Pens wore down and eventually blew by Washington in the decisive Game 7. The challenge is bringing that intensity every game of the series.
- You have to tip your hat to Theodore, he was very solid tonight and held the Caps in there. Is he going to do that every night of a playoff series? That's a legitimate question, especially given his playoff history.
- Brooks Orpik and especially Kris Letang did a masterful job on Alex Ovechkin. AO still attempted 10 shots (only 4 on target), but #44/#58 were in his way all night and did a great job of keeping their sticks active to derail Ovechkin before he could get on-track on most rushes. It only takes one minor slip, one small hesitation for Ovy to burn you, but on this night he was very well defended.
- Sergei Gonchar (a late scratch for an illness) and Evgeni Malkin were out of the lineup, arguably two of the top four most important players on the team. Yet the Pens hung really tough, and though they missed their puck rushers on the PP, they weren't as out of sorts offensively as they were Monday in Detroit.
- Could this be the game we look back and say - now there you go Max Talbot! Maybe, maybe not, but getting the Superstar back to his clutch ways would be a huge benefit.
- Are you gonna fault Fleury for going to his poke-check on guys known to deke and deke well in Ovechkin and Semin in the playoffs? I'm not. In real time they move in fast and MAF had as good a chance to end the shot right there as he did to make a shot. A sniper like that makes a deke and they're usually going to score more often than not anyways on almost any goalie.
- Pens/Caps are always billed as Sid/Alex but both were relatively quiet. Crosby skated more than any other player on the ice, had an uneven 44% in the faceoff circle. Ovechkin got his shots and his hits (5), but wasn't a huge factor in the game either, picking up only a secondary assist on the evening.
All things considered, the Pens were losing in the 3rd period against what's been the best team in the league and ended up tying things up. The ending of the game is unsatisfactory on this side, but it's a shootout, what can you do? More important was the style played: the Pens showed some encouraging signs working their forecheck, generating turnovers, utilizing the cycle down low, getting more shots. All of those things they did on a regular basis last playoff series against the Caps. And if it should come to that again this season, it'll be all things they need to do again, hopefully this time with the benefit of having Malkin and Gonchar.