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Saturday, 05.09.2009 / 7:00 PM

Associated Press

The feeling of a playoff series slipping away to the Pittsburgh Penguins is starting to feel awfully familiar to the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals will try to stop Pittsburgh's momentum on Saturday night at the Verizon Center in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, less than 24 hours after the Penguins evened it at home.

The Penguins are coming off a 5-3 victory on Friday in Pittsburgh - and may have gotten into rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov's head at the same time. After trailing 1-0 just 36 seconds in, Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko scored in an 11 1/2-minute span to make it 3-1 at the end of one period.

Sidney Crosby added his team-high ninth playoff goal, and Max Talbot also found the back of the net in the third period.

"We're right back in it and we have momentum on our side and we'll try to keep it going," said the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 19 shots.

Nicklas Backstrom, Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina tallied the Capitals goals. Alex Ovechkin was held to an assist after scoring five goals in the first three games.

"Alex is only human, he can't be unbelievable every night. He's a great player, he just had one of those nights where he's not going to get three goals," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.

This scenario has been played out before between these clubs. Pittsburgh was down 2-0 in a playoff series to Washington in 1992 before prevailing in seven games. The Penguins also lost the first two games to the Caps in 1996 before moving on in six.

"We said we've got to get two at home and now we've got to try to get one on the road," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

That may be difficult. Varlamov has been particularly competitive at home in the playoffs, winning four straight after dropping his debut, all while posting a 1.41 goals-against average there.

The 21-year-old has allowed a total eight goals in two straight losses. He had permitted only nine in a six-game playoff winning streak before that.

"There were four soft goals out of the five," Boudreau said. "But he'll bounce back. He's a real competitive guy."

Though the series is knotted up, both teams have major concerns heading into what now is essentially a best-of-3. First, is a short turnaround.

No teams in any playoff series this season has had to play on consecutive nights. Three events in an eight-day stretch at Mellon Arena - a Yanni concert, WWE card and Dane Cook show - forced the schedule juggling.

"It is a shame that both teams will have to play back to back games ... because the Pittsburgh building - against NHL rules - booked a series of concerts and forced the league to alter the playoff schedule," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote recently on his blog. "This is bad for the league, both fan bases and for the players.

Last year, the Caps played on successive days in their opening-round series against Philadelphia and lost Game 7 in Washington, 3-2 in overtime, a day after winning on the road.

In a statement, Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer echoed Leonsis' concerns but offered no apologies.

"We agree ... that it is unfortunate when you have to play back-to-back in the playoffs," the statement said. "However, it has happened before, it is sometimes unavoidable, and it impacts both teams equally."

A bigger concern is the health of Gonchar, the Penguins' top offensive defenseman. He may not be able to play after being leveled by a knee-to-knee hit from Ovechkin late in the first period that several Penguins players labeled as dirty.

Gonchar - a 2006 Russian Olympic teammate of Ovechkin - couldn't put any weight on his injured leg as he was assisted off the ice.

"I just tried to move him and I hit him, he turned to move to his left and, I don't know, I don't have time to realize what's going on and he hit my knee," Ovechkin said. "I think it was an accident. I'm not the kind of player who wants to injure guys, especially ones I know like Gonch."

Game 6 is scheduled for Monday night in Pittsburgh.

2008-2009 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
May 13 '09PIT 6 at WSH 2B. Guerin
May 11 '09WSH 5 at PIT 4 - OTD. Steckel
May 09 '09PIT 4 at WSH 3 - OTE. Malkin
May 08 '09WSH 3 at PIT 5S. Crosby
May 06 '09WSH 2 at PIT 3 - OTK. Letang
May 04 '09PIT 3 at WSH 4A. Ovechkin
May 02 '09PIT 2 at WSH 3T. Fleischmann
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
S. Crosby119716+4831
E. Malkin116814-21641
S. Gonchar10279+1611
R. Fedotenko11437+2200
B. Guerin11347+6911
K. Letang10167+11101
C. Kunitz11066+01100
M. Eaton11314+3600
T. Kennedy11224+1402
J. Staal11134-2600
M. Talbot11213+1500
R. Scuderi11123+2600
M. Cooke11123+11200
B. Orpik11022-21200
M. Satan5022+2000
H. Gill11011+2400
C. Adams11011+0000
P. Sykora6011-3000
P. Dupuis10000-3600
P. Boucher2000-2000
A. Goligoski1000+0000
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
M. Fleury117-4303282.61.909
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
A. Ovechkin1210717+8831
N. Backstrom1231114+2620
A. Semin125712+01611
M. Green12189-21210
T. Poti12257+6410
S. Fedorov12167+11001
M. Bradley12235+4001
V. Kozlov12224+2601
D. Steckel12224+0200
B. Laich12134+1210
B. Gordon12033+0400
M. Jurcina12202+61200
T. Fleischmann12202-1411
B. Pothier11022+0600
C. Clark6101-1800
J. Erskine10011+01600
T. Sloan2011+1000
S. Morrisonn12000+2600
E. Fehr9000-3000
D. Brashear4000+01800
M. Nylander3000-1200
J. Beagle2000+0000
J. Schultz1000-1000
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
S. Varlamov116-5243292.15.927
J. Theodore10-14214.07.810