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Seven games that provided a lifetime of memories

Thursday, 05.14.2009 / 12:30 PM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- It didn't end the way it was supposed to end, with drama, maybe even overtime.

The first installment of what promises to be a great playoff rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, ended with a clunker.

Penguins 6, Capitals 2.

Perhaps the only people who aren't complaining are the great folks in Pittsburgh, because any more heart-stopping moments and maybe their Primanti Bros. sandwiches would start to get the best of them.

So, yeah, maybe Game 7 didn't live up to the hype, but Games 1-6 gave hockey fans about as much excitement as they could handle.

Crosby and Ovechkin dueling like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux never could. Evgeni Malkin dominating in a way that every great power forward should. Three overtimes. Games tied 92 percent of the time. Nary a lead larger than two goals before Game 7.

It had it all. It was awesome. And, most importantly, it put hockey where it should be.

Front and center in your living room.

The ratings for this series were up across the board, especially in Pittsburgh, where Game 6 drew an unheard of 24.2 average rating according to Nielsen Media Research.

Just when everyone thought there was too much hype it turned out there wasn't enough.

No one will ever forget this series, but just to be certain, let's refresh your memory.

Game 1: Washington 3, Pittsburgh 2

A new hero crawls through the hype to emerge with one save


His name is Simeon Varlamov. New York Rangers fans know him well and Pittsburgh Penguins fans found out all about the 21-year-old Washington Capitals goalie, who stole the show from Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin at Verizon Center.

Tomas Fleischmann scored the game-winner 1:46 into the third period and both Ovechkin and Crosby each scored once, but Varlamov came up with 34 saves, none more brilliant than the one he made with his stick on Crosby late in the second period, barely five minutes after he gave up a softie to Mark Eaton.

Chris Kunitz sent a pass to Crosby on a 2-on-1 and Varlamov was caught on the left post. The net was wide open as Crosby attempted to bang home what would have been the go-ahead goal, but to his surprise Varlamov got his stick down on the goal line and stopped the puck from crossing with 1:59 to play in the second period.

"He gave us a chance to win the game," Ovechkin said.

Game 2: Washington 4, Pittsburgh 3

Hats fly for Ovie and Sid

The two biggest superstars of this generation left the two biggest superstars of last generation eating their hearts out with scintillating performances in Game 2 that made an avalanche of hats fly from the red-clad Verizon Center stands.

Ovechkin and Crosby each had a hat trick in Game 2 and No. 8's third goal at 15:22 of the third period proved to be the game-winner because No. 87 notched his third with 31 seconds left to play in one of the most memorable games in NHL history.

The difference in this one was David Steckel gave the Capitals the secondary scoring Pittsburgh never got. Steckel sandwiched his second goal in as many games around the second of the game for both Crosby and Ovechkin.

Crosby scored first just 6:38 into the contest. Ovechkin answered at the 2:18 mark of the second. Crosby scored again 10:57 into the same period. Steckel, though, made it 2-2 with his goal less than five minutes later.

Crosby-Ovechkin Gear Alex Ovechkin Gear Sidney Crosby Gear Ovechkin broke it open with a pair of goals separated by a mere two minutes, 29 seconds to make it 4-2, but Crosby kept the crowd riveted right to the end when he scored his third goal from right around the blue paint at 19:29 of the third.

"When you build that hype of superstars playing against each other and then the superstars play like superstars, it's a neat thing, fun to talk about," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Not too many people can do what they did tonight."

Game 3: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (OT)

Letang's winner gives Pens hope


With everyone still talking about the Sid and Ovie show from Game 2, there was a Game 3 to be played and the unlikeliest of heroes emerged. Kris Letang left Game 2 with what appeared to be a shoulder injury that would sideline him for days.

Well, it did sideline the young defenseman, but only for one day and fortunately for the Penguins, it was an off-day in the series.

Letang returned for Game 3 and although Ovechkin and Crosby had two points each, he scored the winner 11:23 into overtime on a point shot that went into the net off Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn. It was the first playoff goal of his career and it gave the Penguins hope in this series.

Crosby, of course, won the draw to Eaton, who passed it over to Letang for the one-time blast. Game 3 also featured the coming out party of Malkin, who scored his first goal of the series on nine shots while playing a game-high 29:38.

"This is playoff hockey and some guys have to wear the cape. Everyone plays with injuries and Kris is a good example of that."
-- Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot on teammate Kris Letang

"This is playoff hockey and some guys have to wear the cape," Pens forward Maxime Talbot said. "Everyone plays with injuries and Kris is a good example of that."

Game 4: Pittsburgh 5, Washington 3

Knees collide and Varly struggles


The first of the back-to-backs in this series will be remembered more for a collision than any particular individual performance.

Ovechkin and Sergei Gonchar collided knees 14:55 into the first period of a 2-1 game in favor of Pittsburgh. Gonchar took the worst of it, falling to the ice in what appeared to be an excruciating amount of pain.

Ovechkin was vilified in Pittsburgh for what many believed was an "intentional" knee-on-knee shot. The folks in Washington didn't think there was anything wrong with it at all. The national media sided closer to the Washington side than the Pittsburgh side.

Not to be forgotten was a dominating Pittsburgh performance. The Penguins took advantage of a rare off night by Varlamov to score five goals on 28 shots against the Russian goalie.

However, even with the series even at 2 apiece, all anyone wanted to talk about was the knee-on-knee collision that left Gonchar out and Ovechkin clearly distraught about what happened to his countryman.

"It's a best of three now," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Game 5: Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Stars put on hard hats and go to work


Steckel had a chance to win it barely 20 seconds into overtime, but he couldn't put the puck on net. Malkin didn't need to put it on net to get the winner.

 
His crossing pass heading in Crosby's direction hit off a diving Tom Poti and redirected into the net for the winner 3:28 into overtime, putting the Penguins on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

The Penguins got a masterful night from their third line of Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, who combined for two goals and four points after registering only one point (a Staal assist) through the first four games of the series.

Ovechkin came back from a controversial Game 4 to score a pair of game-tying goals, including one with 4:08 left in regulation that forced overtime. Varlamov faced 42 shots, but made 38 saves, some sparklers. Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 28 of 31 shots.

"These games come down to mistakes and bounces," Crosby said, "and we've been able to make a few less ones here and got a good bounce on the last goal."

Game 6: Capitals 5, Penguins 4 (OT)

Caps stave off elimination with Steckel's tip


The series that couldn't get any better did in Pittsburgh and a rugged, 6-foot-5 Wisconsin born center turned out to be the hero in a game that featured eight points from the three biggest stars in the series.

After winning an in-zone faceoff to the right of Fleury, Steckel got his stick out to redirect Brooks Laich's point shot into the net, setting off a wild celebration. The Capitals won for just the second time in eight overtime games against the Penguins.

Ovechkin had three assists, but after the Capitals took a 4-3 lead with back-to-back goals from Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov that were separated by just 29 seconds. Crosby forced overtime with his goal at 15:42 of the third period.

Rob Scuderi rang a shot off the crossbar early in overtime before Steckel won it at 6:22.

Ovechkin and Malkin each had three assists while Crosby had a goal and an assist.

"There was a lot of talk before the series started and it's everything it was made out to be," Crosby said. "We would have loved to finish it off here and it could have worked out that way, but let's just say we're all not surprised that it's going seven."

Game 7: Penguins 6, Capitals 2


Pens run away with anticlimactic finish


This one didn't match the drama of the first six games as the Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period and 4-0 just 22:12 into the game. Varlamov was yanked after giving up four goals on 18 shots and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Crosby scored twice and added an assist, giving him 13 points in the series. Ovechkin got his 11th and final goal of the playoffs off a Fleury turnover, giving him 14 points in the series and 21 for the postseason, which is ties him with Crosby for No. 1 in the League.
"This was Magic and Bird from back in the day. It was just a great series for the League and a great series for the game of hockey. I don't know if I've been involved in a series with as many ups and downs as this one. I'll never forget this one." -- Bill Guerin
Game 7 might have been a dud, but it took nothing away from what was one of the most historic and memorable series in hockey history.

If only it were a best of 14, or even 21.

"This was Magic and Bird from back in the day," Penguins wing Bill Guerin said. "It was just a great series for the League and a great series for the game of hockey. I don't know if I've been involved in a series with as many ups and downs as this one. I'll never forget this one."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

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