It was a game you had to see to believe...Looking at the final stats you'd see a Penguin advantage in shots for 43-23 in shots and might think it was in hand. And while Pittsburgh clearly out-shined the Caps for most of the night, thanks to the play of Simeon Varlamov it went to overtime.
The thing about overtime, like much of playoff hockey is that it all comes down to bounces. And the hockey gods weren't favoring the Pens early, just 1:23 into the game Marc-Andre Fleury went to play the puck behind his net. 95% of the time the puck gets played no problem, but this time the stick slipped out of Fleury's hands. And the puck took a crazy bounce. Maybe it doesn't have to go right into the middle, but this time it did. And maybe the league's leading goal scorer doesn't have to be the one closest to the puck. But this time it did. Just like that it's 1-0 and the home team and crowd is stunned.
But give it to the Pens, instead of wilting away, they hung in there. The shots that period would be even, but Pittsburgh worked through it. Evgeni Malkin broke through coverage and got a quick shot off on a breakaway. Sidney Crosby would bull through several defenders the next shift. Pittsburgh was back, even if they went into the period down 1-0.
In the second, the Pens persistence would pay off. Max Talbot made a great play to get the puck off the wall and up to Ruslan Fedotenko. Tank ran it up the zone and Talbot hustled to get in the play with him. Fedotenko tried to pass on the 2-on-1 but the bounce went the Penguins way this time, as it came back to Tank who buried it by the naturally out-of-position Varlamov who had to play the pass. 1-1 game.
With five minutes left to go in the game, Malkin took advantage of a power-play and drilled a shot into the net. 2-1 Pens. Not to go down quietly, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom would combine to score on a power-play of their own with just over a minute to go in the game. OT here we come.
Thomas Jefferson once said "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it". Perhaps since the Pens had carried the play throughout the night, they would be smiled upon with another lucky bounce. And they got it after 11 minutes of OT when Crosby won the most important faceoff of the game back Mark Eaton. Eaton went "D to D" over to his partner Kris Letang who took a quick shot. It changed directions off of Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and ended up in the net. Game over.
- Fleury, though he's sure to catch a lot of criticism for the initial miscue that led to the game's first goal, recovered to have a pretty good game. He's now a career 4-0 in playoff over time games, very impressive.
- Capitals fans are already whining about the power-play differential, it was 7 to 2 in favor of the Pens. The Caps got whistled for two delay of games for throwing the puck out of the rink (unlucky but automatic calls) and their other penalties were a result of the Pens puck possession and control in the Caps zone. Put enough pressure on a team and they'll be forced to take penalties. More than anything, that's what happened tonight.
- Other than the initial slam dunk goal, Ovechkin had a relatively quiet night (just 4 shots on goal from that point on). A tribute to the puck possession that Pittsburgh had, but I thought that Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill did a great job keeping AO outside and away from the goal on this night. As always though, it only takes one little slip for him to burn you, so they'll have to stay vigilant.
- Varlamov did his part to hold the Caps in. But credit the Pens for keeping up the pressure and not taking "no" for an answer.
- On one sequence, Pascal Dupuis raced down the ice and knocked Varlamov's clearing pass down. The puck would come back to Dupuis with an open net, only "Varly" would scramble back for a save. A better player might have roofed the puck for the easy goal, but if Dupuis didn't show the hustle to get down there in the first place, the whole thing never happens. As always with Dupuis, you gotta take the good (his feet) with the bad (his hands).
- Malkin lead all skaters with 29:38 of ice-time. Usually a defenseman carries that title. Malkin finally got going with his north-south skating and took the puck up the ice with authority several times. Good on him for getting the goal and being a force all over the ice all night long.
- The Caps continued their faceoff superiority to the Pens--no regular Penguin center was over 50% on the night-- but as I mentioned, Crosby won the biggest draw and the puck ended up in the Caps net.
- Mike Green, even though he "earned" an assist on the game's first goal, doesn't look like the offensive dynamo he was all season long, scoring 31 goals from the blueline. Maybe it's an undisclosed injury, maybe it's the lingering effects of an illness he was reportedly fighting last week, but Green doesn't look himself. Green's been solid in his own zone, but usually he's leading the rush up the ice and taking a lot more shots on goal than he has the series.
Now, at 2-1 we've got a series. Throw the early miscue out and the Pens were the superior team all along, even if it took 71 minutes to get a decision in the game. The Caps took care of their initial home ice, and now the Pens are halfway there to doing the same.
No one said it would be easy, but now we're on our way. Buckle up Pens fans, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.
Pensburgh 3 stars of the game (new feature):
3. Ruslan Fedotenko -- 1 goal, 8 hits, 3 shots on net, +1 in 17:46 time-on-ice
2. Simeon Varlamov -- 39 saves on 42 shots and pretty much the only reason the Caps didn't get blown out
1. Evgeni Malkin -- 1 goal, game high 9 shots on goal, game high 29:38 played, +1, got his game in gear rushing the puck and taking over the game at times.
Honorable Mention: Kris Letang (GWG, 1 assist, +2 on a game he was questionable for)
5 wins down, 11 more to go!!!!