PITTSBURGH - The Washington Capitals supposedly can't win without Alex Ovechkin scoring. They can't win an overtime playoff game. They can't beat the Pittsburgh Penguins when a series is on the line.
All that's ended, and it means a riveting, entertaining series matching the NHL's two biggest names and two of its best teams is anything but over. David Steckel scored on a deflection of Brooks Laich's shot and the Capitals finally won an overtime playoff game, beating nemesis Pittsburgh 5-4 on Monday night to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"I think it's going to be great game," Ovechkin said. "I think the league wants us to play Game 7 (on Wednesday)."
This one couldn't have been much better.
The Capitals, losers of their previous seven overtime games, failed to hold a 4-3 lead late in regulation when Sidney Crosby scored. They made up for it when Steckel went to the net immediately after winning a faceoff.
Laich wristed the puck from the right circle and Steckel tipped it past Marc-Andre Fleury 6:22 into the overtime.
The game before, Steckel couldn't score into an open net early in overtime and the Penguins won in Washington on Evgeni Malkin's goal to force the potential closeout game on Monday.
"I told myself if I had a chance again, I wouldn't miss," Steckel said. "I was in the right place at the right time. I personally didn't know where it went or anything. ... It was the biggest goal of my career so I didn't know what to do. I just jumped around."
It was the third overtime game of the series, the most in any round of these NHL playoffs. Pittsburgh won the first two, both on deflections off Capitals defencemen.
Also, the Penguins had won eight of their previous nine overtime games and had been 7-1 against the Capitals in OT.
Ovechkin, so dominating while scoring seven of Washington's first 15 goals, didn't get a goal but had three assists and has 13 points in six games. Crosby has 10, including six goals.
"They're incredible, both of them, and Malkin is just as incredible," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They play at a level other people can't attain."
Viktor Kozlov scored twice for the Capitals in the fourth game in six nights, all of them tight and tense. All but one has been decided by one goal.
"There was a lot of talk before the series started, and it's everything it was made up to be. We would have loved to finish it off here, no doubt, but we did a lot of good things and it could have worked out. We were a couple of inches from finishing it off," Crosby said.
"Let's just say it's not surprising it's going seven."
Now that they've forced a Game 7 that didn't look all that certain after they ceded home-ice advantage, the Capitals hope to finally close out a series against the Penguins. Five times since 1992 they've led the Penguins by two games in a series, including this one, but have won only in 1994.
Maybe they can take something from this: The Capitals won in Pittsburgh for the first time in this round despite trailing 1-0 and 3-2 and being outshot 42-24, and did it without a goal from Ovechkin for the second straight road game.
"It's always fun when Ovie scores, but it's hard because the other team pays a lot of attention and is very close to Ovie, so it's a good thing other people give us goals," Kozlov said.
Washington came back from Kris Letang's second career playoff goal, both in this series, to take a 4-3 lead early in the third on goals 29 seconds apart by Alexander Semin and Kozlov.
Semin hadn't scored since the first round against the Rangers.
Crosby tied it with 4:18 left in regulation by batting down Brooks Orpik's shot and pushing it past Simeon Varlamov, who made 38 saves - 17 in the first period alone.
The Penguins shook off the Capitals' promised desperation to dominate that period, outshooting them 18-5 and limiting them to two shots in the final 16:22.
However, Pittsburgh managed a single goal while constantly controlling the puck, by Bill Guerin, and Crosby said it would have helped considerably to get a second goal.
"They wanted not to make a game of it," Boudreau said. "I think they just wanted to come in and blow us out."
Washington, also outshot by nearly 2-to-1 during its 3-2 overtime loss last Wednesday, began controlling the play early in the second period and took a 2-1 lead on goals by Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann about eight minutes apart.
Pittsburgh tied it on defenseman Mark Eaton's power-play goal with 34 seconds left in the period, his fourth of the playoffs - as many as he had in 68 regular-season games.
Notes: Pittsburgh also lost a potential elimination game on home ice, 3-0 to Philadelphia in Game 5 of the first round, but won Game 6 on the road. ... Washington F Donald Brashear's six-game suspension ended, but he was scratched. ... Washington blew two-game leads against Pittsburgh in 1992, 1995 and 1996.