Ten minutes in, thanks largely to the boost from the home crowd and energy in the building, shots were but 4-4. The Penguins weathered the storm. The rest of the period shots would be 12-1 Pittsburgh, a figure no doubt influenced by the Pens having a 2-0 power-play advantage, but still.
Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks repeated an old hockey adage yesterday: the best team always wins a seven game series. The Penguins finally pulled away tonight and buried their old nemesis the Washington Capitals. The Capitals obviously tested the Pens and while the score was evenly matched and back-and-forth throughout the first six games, the rest wasn't. The Penguins cycled the puck in Washington's zone more, forcing the Capitals to take 34 penalties to the Pens 19. Caps fans will invariably whine about the disparity, but when one team is controlling the play and forcing the issue, the other team has to hook/hold/slash/interfere to try and get the puck back.
Shots were 256 to 180 in favor of the Penguins over the course of the series. The Pens low was 30 shots in Game 7, where they sort of eased off a little (but not totally) after scoring 5 goals in 30 minutes.
So pretty much the only reason the Caps even made it a series was the play of their stellar goalie Simeon Varlamov. Unfortunately for Varlamov, a Cinderalla story of a 21 year old who only played six NHL regular season games --but held the Rangers to 7 goals in 6 playoff games-- the clock struck midnight and it was pumpkin time. The Pens rocked him for 13 goals in the last two and a half games and he ran out of gas under the heavy schedule. Nothing wrong with it, just what happens when Pittsburgh throws everything and a kitchen sink at a goalie.
Still, a tip of the hat to the Caps. They were evenly matched through six games, even though only Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and David Steckel made real offensive contributions. Mike Green and Alex Semin racked up decent points for the series, but neither were particularly dangerous. I think news will break that both were playing through some significant injuries; especially Green who was a wizard of a puck rushing defenseman through the regular season but didn't show it at all in the playoffs.
The playoffs are a war of attrition, and Pittsburgh just was a little deeper, kept their guys a little fresher and had more in the tank. From Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin finding the scoring sheet when it mattered most, the Pens got better support and proved to be deeper.
In this game, Ovechkin had the game's first great chance, a clear breakaway on Marc-Andre Fleury just three minutes into the game. I thought Fleury was good, but not great through most of the series. MAF made the stop of the series when he denied Ovechkin there. If the Caps go up 1-0 early, the roof blows off that building and the game doesn't unfold the way it did. Fleury made it happen when he needed to. Good for him to have the chance to be big in a big game. Fleury wasn't flawless, he had another puck handling miscue that put Ovechkin's goal on a platter but by that point the game was curtains.
9 goals in 7 games for Sidney Crosby....Eight of them from on the doorstep. Ovechkin has lit the lamp and is probably on his way to a second MVP trophy. But let there be no doubt which star shined the brightest in this series. Sure Ovechkin was a monster each and every game. But one man lead his team to victory and the other is packing up for the summer. I'll trade regular season MVP's for playoff superiority any day of the week. Crosby's 15 points in a single series is a record for post-lockout play, if you're into that type of thing.
And how great it was to see Sergei Gonchar back in the lineup. Though Sarge didn't look 100% he still made the shot that led to Sidney Crosby's goal to open the game. And I don't have the words to describe how sublimely beautiful the play Crosby made, pulling a ricocheting puck off the back of his skate perfectly to his stick blade and into the net. As great as Ovechkin is and as great as Evgeni Malkin is, there's only one player in the world that consistently shows the hand-feet-eye coordination to regularly pull of goals like that.
It was nice in the handshake line to see an extended conversation between Ovechkin and Gonchar in which #8 pantomimed that he didn't mean to take out Gonch's knee. The smile on Sarge's face showed "yeah, I know". It was a dirty result (as Ovechkin himself admitted), but AO isn't a dirty player. A physical one, yes. A reckless one at times, but no doubt to me that he didn't want to hurt Gonchar in that situation, just a play that developed quickly at such a high level.
How about a little props to Craig Adams too? I can't find the page at hockey reference right now, but Adams held a dubious title: he was the active leader among forwards to play the most playoff games without scoring a goal (41 games). Adams isn't a scorer--and he's got a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 -- but it's great to see him get off that list by scoring a quick second goal that really took the air out of the Caps and their fans. Was it a weak goal? Probably. But at the end of the day, it's still a goal.
This game recap has surely been a little different than most around here, and for good reason. This wasn't a normal game. And as Pens fans, even though we don't want to, I can't help but remember the deflating agony of Game 6 against Detroit last season. Sucks to lose like that and have it be over, especially when you think you have a chance of winning. So, even though Penguins fans need no reminder, let's be classy in victory and happy for the chance to celebrate. The Caps hung right in there for a hard fought six games, no need to rub it in. Let's take the high road and look forward to moving on to meet either Boston or Carolina next round.
I'd be remise without a final thank you to the Pens fans...Here at Pensburgh it was a banner game-thread with 1095 comments, a record for us. Congrats to you guys for that and thanks for riding the game out here, we really appreciate it.
I imagine the next game will be Saturday or Sunday, so it'll be a welcome reprieve for Gonchar, and all the rest of the Pens to get a small breather. The bumps and bruises won't totally heal, but it sure beats the alternative of going home.
8 wins in the book, two worthy and heated rivals down....We're halfway to going dancing with Lord Stanley.