Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Simeon Varlamov was ordinary -- and the Pittsburgh Penguins weren't.
Folks, we've got ourselves a series here, one that is rapidly becoming legendary.
Pittsburgh completed its task of winning back-to-back games at Mellon Arena on Friday night with a 5-3 victory, getting the Penguins even with Washington in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The series now shifts to Verizon Center on Saturday night for Game 5. Neither the Capitals nor the Penguins have lost at home yet in this series, and the team that has scored the first goal is 0-4.
The Penguins took advantage of some more sloppy play in the neutral zone by the Capitals and finally benefitted from an off-night by Varlamov.
"He struggled," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of the 21-year-old Russian rookie, who faced 28 shots and allowed five goals -- his poorest showing in this year's playoffs. "He's human. He hasn't had a bad game. You look at it as his 10th game in the playoffs and arguably there were four soft goals out of the five. But he'll bounce back. He's a real competitive guy."
Sergei Gonchar, who left the game 14:55 in after his knee-on-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin, beat Varlamov with a screened shot from between the circles that went through the goalie's legs just 3:55 into the game. It tied the game at 1-1 because Nicklas Backstrom scored on the first shot of the game just 36 seconds in.
Bill Guerin scored off a rebound at 10:47 of the first period after a Capitals' in-zone turnover led to a great scoring chance by Sidney Crosby, who was standing in front of the net, wide open, untouched.
Varlamov was guilt-free on that one, but he should have stopped Ruslan Fedotenko's soft straightaway wrist shot from the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo less than five minutes later. Instead, the puck ricocheted off his catching glove and into the net, putting the Pens up 3-1.
Crosby scored the eventual game-winner on a 2-on-1 with Miroslav Satan after another Capitals' turnover 4:16 into the third period. Again, you could probably absolve Varlamov from blame on that one, but he could have had Maxime Talbot's insurance goal, a shot off the rush from the left wing boards with 5:14 left in the game.
"It happens. Everybody has an off-night," Caps captain Chris Clark said. "Break down 20 guys on your team and somebody is going to have an off-night and the goalies take the brunt of it if it looks like they're having an off-night. We're behind him 100 percent."
The Penguins, rightfully so, didn't think Varlamov was all that bad Friday night. They just thought they were pretty good, both in Game 3 and Game 4.
"We thought we could take care of some areas where we made mistakes (in Games 1 and 2)," Pens' coach Dan Bylsma said. "We thought we could get in the offensive zone more. That's what we were coming back here to do and fortunately we were able to do that.
"It's a best-of-3 now."
That's because not only because Varlamov was average for the first time in the series, but for the second straight game the Penguins dominated in transition, benefitting from the Capitals' sloppy turnovers.
Guerin's goal was a direct result of a miscommunication between Mike Green and Brooks Laich and a bad positional play by Shaone Morrisonn.
Green said he was trying to chip the puck up off the boards to Laich, but Laich thought he was trying to get it out of the zone. Guerin held the puck in at the point and got it to Chris Kunitz, who spotted Crosby wide-open in front of the net because Morrisonn was already out of position after pinching too high up on Kunitz.
Varlamov stopped Crosby twice at the doorstep, but he couldn't corral the rebound and Guerin raced in ahead of Laich to whack it in, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.
"It's a little miscommunication and Crosby is sitting in front of the net like he always is," Green said. "For sure one of us should have been there (on Crosby)."
Green made up for his miscue on Guerin's goal with some nifty puck handling into the middle before shooting. Clark was able to bat the rebound in with 4:52 to play in the second period, giving Washington life and a 3-2 deficit.
With Washington pressing for the equalizer early in the third period, the Penguins again were able to take advantage of an error.
Green was playing up above the red line when Hal Gill sent the puck up the right wing boards to Guerin, who saw Miroslav Satan get by Green and streak up ice. Guerin sent a long headman pass to Satan, creating a 2-on-1 with Crosby against John Erskine.
Satan feathered the puck through Erskine's legs and Crosby banged it in at 4:16 to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead. Milan Jurcina scored a shorthanded goal just 2:07 later, but Talbot's goal thwarted any comeback chances the Capitals were trying to make.
"I think that our consistency wasn't there for the most part in the first two games, and we did make big mistakes," Crosby said. "If we did make a mistake in the (last two games) we found a way to get ourselves out of it."
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Miroslav Satan found the hole between John Erskine's legs and got the puck to Sidney Crosby for a slam-dunk goal that clinched the need for a Game 6 in this series. After gloving down a high pass from Rob Scuderi, Satan got into the zone on a 2-on-1 with Crosby against Erskine. Mike Green was late coming back. Satan feathered a pass through Erskine's legs to Crosby near the left post. Crosby pumped home the goal 4:16 into the third period, his ninth of the playoffs, to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
It's hard to call Ruslan Fedotenko an unsung hero considering how much he factored into the win for Pittsburgh, but his one-goal, one-assist night is exactly the kind of performance the Penguins need from their role players. Fedotenko scored the Penguins' third goal with a sweet wrist shot and he made an excellent pass up the ice and off the left wing boards, sending Maxime Talbot in for his goal 14:46 into the third period that made it 5-3.
Sergei Gonchar left the game in obvious pain after being on the wrong end of a knee-on-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin at 14:55 of the first period. Ovechkin was called for tripping and Fedotenko scored 30 seconds later in a 4-on-4 situation to put the Pens up 3-1. However, Gonchar did not return and if he can't play in Game 5 Saturday night that's a huge loss for the Penguins.
Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal and his chances were limited for the second straight game. He was credited with the secondary assist on Chris Clark's goal 15:08 into the second period, but Ovechkin had only two shots on goal on 11 attempts at the net in 25:22 of ice time. He had six shots blocked and he missed the net another three times. He was also in the penalty box in the first period for tripping Sergei Gonchar when Ruslan Fedotenko scored his 4-on-4 goal.
After three games of give and take jabbering off the ice, the Caps and Pens finally got chippy on the ice in the final 10 minutes of the first period Friday. Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik had words on a couple of occasions after Ovechkin sent Sergei Gonchar hobbling to the dressing room. Orpik nearly took a retaliatory penalty with about 2:45 left in the period. Twenty seconds later Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal, who played a whale of a game, teamed up to crush Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn into the end boards behind Washington's goal. Finally, Evgeni Malkin got an elbow up on Milan Jurcina when he hit him in the same spot Kunitz and Staal nailed Morrisonn. Malkin did it illegally and he was called for elbowing. When the buzzer blew, the refs had to make sure the teams didn't cross each other as they headed to their respective dressing rooms. The Pens went first and then the Caps got to go.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PIT
3 - 1 PIT
3 - 2 PIT
4 - 2 PIT
4 - 3 PIT
5 - 3 PIT
Holding the stick