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Capitals take 2-0 lead with a grain of salt

Tuesday, 05.05.2009 / 9:26 AM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- The NHL got what it wanted Monday night as the two biggest superstars in the game, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, battled goal for goal in a classic duel that will be talked about for years.

The Washington Capitals also got what they wanted in Game 2 at Verizon Center with a 4-3 win, one that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the defending conference champs.

Now that all the adjectives have been used to describe what was arguably the greatest and most important game in the NHL's post-work stoppage era, the Capitals must remember they have work to do before they can celebrate in this series.

The good news is they've got enough experience to know exactly what they shouldn't do.

Washington has been on the wrong side of a two-game deficit in their last two playoff series and each time battled back to force Game 7. They lost last year's to Philadelphia, but won their Game 7 this year against the New York Rangers.

Just like they weren't done in those series, they know the Pittsburgh Penguins aren't yet cooked in this one.

"You have to win four games to feel good about yourself," Alex Ovechkin said after recording his first career postseason hat trick Monday night.

The Capitals flirted with disaster more than they would have liked in Game 2. They committed five penalties in the first period, including Alexander Semin's high-sticking of Brooks Orpik 5:28 into the game that led to Sidney Crosby's first goal and Chris Clark's unnecessary elbowing of Kris Letang that negated a Caps' power play.

A little over four minutes after Clark's penalty, the Caps gave the Penguins' potent power play a 5-on-3 for 46 seconds late in the first because they again were undisciplined. Tom Poti went off for interference and Mike Green followed him to the box 74 seconds later after tripping Bill Guerin.

They were fortunate to kill the 5-on-3 thanks to a pair of sparkling saves from rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who stoned Crosby at the right post with a left leg pad save and got his catching glove on Sergei Gonchar's 35-foot blast to knock it into the netting.

"It was probably one of the key moments in the game because if we were to allow a goal it would have been 2-0 and it's much harder to make up a 2-0 deficit," Varlamov said through an interpreter. "Pittsburgh could have just gone on defense and stayed there for the rest of the game. So, yeah, it was very important."

As Ovechkin said, the Capitals were lucky to get out of the first period trailing only 1-0.

"We started bad," he said. "We know now is the time we have to be ourselves and don't be selfish."

He said the Capitals discussed their undisciplined play during the first intermission and reminded themselves of how their composure allowed them to come back against the Rangers.

"If you remember when we played against the Rangers, when (Sean) Avery hit (John Erskine) in the face, he took it and we got the power play," Ovechkin said, recalling a key moment in the Caps' 4-0 win in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden. "We have to do the same job, look back and see how we played against the Rangers."

The Caps were better in the last 40 minutes. They stayed out of the box in the second, but had to deal with two Pittsburgh power plays in the third as Milan Jurcina was called for interference at 10:49 and cross checking at 18:19.

Washington Capitals Playoff GearCrosby scored on the Penguins' second power play of the period to complete his hat trick, but Ovechkin had already put the Caps ahead, 4-2, with 4:38 to play in the game.

Prior to Monday's game Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said he'd rather start poorly and finish strong than start strong and finish poorly.

That's been Washington's recipe for success twice in this series and three games in a row dating back to the first round, but the Capitals can't keep playing that close to the edge without eventually getting burned.

"In the first period we took stupid penalties and we can't do that if we're going to win games, especially against these kinds of teams," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We have to make sure we don't take any more stupid penalties. That's going to maybe kill us."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com




Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season