Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer PITTSBURGH -- Twenty-four hours before he scored the biggest goal of his young NHL career, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang wasn't even sure if he'd be able to play in Game 3 against Washington.
Letang left Game 2 in the third period with an undisclosed injury. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told the media it was "a strength issue" with Letang, but he was hopeful the 22-year-old Montreal native would be able to play Wednesday.
More than 17,000 fans left Mellon Arena thrilled that he did.
Letang scored the overtime-winning goal on a set play off an in-zone faceoff win by Sidney Crosby 11:23 into the extra period to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory and new life in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
Instead of playing for their playoff lives on Friday night, the Penguins can even the best-of-7 series by winning Game 4 at home.
Crosby cleanly won the right-circle faceoff against David Steckel back to Mark Eaton at the half-boards. Eaton slid a pass to his left for Letang, whose one-timer ricocheted off Caps' defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and whizzed past goalie Simeon Varlamov.
"At the end, the more you shoot the more chances you get," Letang said. "So I kept shooting and it ended up being the best thing."
The Penguins kept shooting on Varlamov all night long, peppering the 21-year-old Russian with 42 shots. Evgeni Malkin, scoreless in the last five games and a non-factor in the Game 1 and 2 losses to Washington, had a goal on nine shots while playing a game-high 29:38.
Varlamov was brilliant again, turning aside numerous great Pittsburgh chances to give the Capitals the opportunity to get into overtime. Nicklas Backstrom's power-play goal with 1:50 remaining in regulation forced OT, but Pittsburgh didn't get discouraged and found a way to win -- extending its overtime winning streak to six games, five of them 3-2 victories.
After a rough first period, the Penguins dominated the final 51:23 of Game 3. They held Washington to just 15 shots on goal after the first period while putting 34 on Varlamov, an onslaught of offense that was fueled by the Capitals' repeated inability to clear the zone.
Washington also had no answer for Malkin, who answered his critics with his strongest performance of the series.
"They were in our zone, we were backtracking and I think I told them after the second period that we were playing not to lose rather than to win," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's just what it looked like because we were getting the puck in, but we weren't forechecking so we were just sitting back and letting them come back at us."
Alex Ovechkin silenced the Mellon Arena crowd just 83 seconds into the first period with a fluky goal after the puck took a weird bounce off the end boards, but Pittsburgh's deluge of offense started in the second period, awaking the crowd from its slumber.
The Penguins outshot the Capitals 15-4 in the second and got the tying goal when Ruslan Fedotenko scored on a 2-on-1 rush with Maxime Talbot against Milan Jurcina.
"The first 10 minutes wasn't our sharpest," Bylsma said. "This was a big game with implications of possibly going down 0-3, and we executed like that was the case. Once we got our feet under us we started getting in the offensive zone with execution and speed. The second period was a really good period for us to push and drive."
Malkin gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead with 4:59 to play in regulation when he finally was rewarded for his effort with a goal. After taking a pass from Crosby, Malkin brought the puck between the circles and fired a heavy wrister that went high over Varlamov's stick.
"He was at another level," Bylsma said of Malkin's effort in Game 3. "He was dominant with the puck. He had the one goal, which was fantastic, but he had other great opportunities. It was great to see him respond and get that goal."
Even with all of the Penguins' offense, a fortuitous power play and a lucky rebound allowed the Caps to force overtime.
Pascal Dupuis went to the box at 17:32 of the third for interfering with defenseman Tom Poti. Backstrom won a faceoff in the left circle and Alexander Semin, playing with the puck near in the left circle, waited patiently before taking a shot that Ovechkin tipped.
Fleury made the save, but the puck bounded to his right and Backstrom, standing on the goal line, was able to bang it in off of the goalie's backside.
"It was kind of lucky," Backstrom said.
Letang was also lucky just to be playing in Game 3 -- the way he left the ice after Game 2, things were certainly not looking good for the young defenseman. However, Bylsma said, "we felt confident (Tuesday) that Kris's strength would return significantly."
It did and Letang gave the Penguins a strong effort, playing 27 shifts totaling 26:12 of ice time. He had six shots on goal, but only one that mattered.
"This is playoff hockey and some guys have to wear the cape," Talbot said. "Everyone plays with injuries and Kris is a good example of that."
Maxime Talbot made the Penguins first goal happen with a nifty play along the boards and then great hustle to get in with Ruslan Fedotenko on a 2-on-1 against Milan Jurcina. Talbot battled with Nicklas Backstrom for the puck at the blue line boards in front of the Capitals bench. He won and got the puck up to Fedotenko and then raced around Backstrom and got into the play, creating the 2-on-1. He never touched the puck again as Fedotenko's attempted crossing pass to Talbot came right back on his stick after hitting Jurcina. Fedotenko quickly shot the puck into the open net at 9:29 of the second period as Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov was caught on the left post.
Nicklas Backstrom was in the right place at the right time on the Capitals' power play and as a result he wound up with the all-important game-tying goal with just 1:50 remaining in regulation. Backstrom has been excellent throughout this series, but it has fallen on deaf ears because his name is not Alex, Sidney, Evgeni or Simeon. He had a pair of assists in Game 1 and another helper in Game 2 before scoring his first goal of the series off a rebound Wednesday night. Backstrom was also better on faceoffs (59 percent) in Game 3 after winning a combined 10-of-27 in Games 1 and 2.
Dan Bylsma's decision to move Talbot from the fourth line up to the second line was definitely a good one. Talbot's presence on the right side of Malkin energized the big guy, who played a whale of a game and finally found the net with a huge goal 15:01 into the third period. It would have been the game-winner if not for Backstrom's heroics. Talbot, of course, made the key play on the Penguins' first goal as well. He played Games 1 and 2 on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Petr Sykora, who was benched in favor of Miroslav Satan Wednesday night.
Alex Ovechkin, who had 21 shots on goal and 36 attempts at the net through the first two games, managed only five shots on goal in just 10 attempts Wednesday night. Of course, his only shot in the first period wound up being a goal, albeit a fluky one after the puck took a pro-Washington carom off the end boards. Ovechkin had just four shots and seven attempts at the net in regulation. Meanwhile, Malkin also had a goal, but he put nine shots on goal.
Figured this was a great spot to diagram the game-winning goal, one you'll be seeing on highlight shows for quite some time. Sidney Crosby won an in-zone faceoff right back to Mark Eaton, who quickly passed it to Kris Letang for a one-timer that he hammered. The puck deflected off of Shaone Morrisonn just enough to throw off Varlamov before going into the net with 8:37 left in the first overtime. The Penguins celebrated a 3-2 win they just had to have.
1 - 0 WSH