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Gonchar hurt by Ovechkin hit as Pens tie series

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) -For two games, Alex Ovechkin hurt the Pittsburgh Penguins with his goals. Now, he's hurting them with his hits.

While the Washington star couldn't prevent the Penguins from tying up the playoff series, he still managed to deal them a possible loss.

Ovechkin, nearly unstoppable while scoring five goals in the first three games, was held to two shots and no goals during Pittsburgh's 5-3 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday night - his first shutout of the series.

Afterward, the Penguins were talking again about Ovechkin. And they weren't speculating how he might respond in Game 5 in Washington on Saturday night, either.

During Pittsburgh's three-goal surge in the first period, Ovechkin took out top Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar with a knee-to-knee hit that some Penguins players called dirty. Ovechkin denied that, but Gonchar was helped off the ice and his status for the rest of the series is uncertain.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby sounded as if Gonchar might be out for a while, although Gonchar planned to take the postgame team flight to Washington. Gonchar missed three-quarters of the regular season because of a shoulder injury, and the Penguins didn't begin their late-season surge until he returned.

"We missed Gonch for a long time, we were forced to play guys in a couple of different positions, and now we've got to use that experience and find a way to still be productive without him," Crosby said. "There's no choice right now."

Just as the Penguins almost had no choice except to win Game 4, at least if they expected to maintain a realistic hope of winning the series. Otherwise, the Capitals would have had as many as three games to close them out.

Now, it's 2-2, and there's certain to be a Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Monday night.

"We're right back in it and we have momentum on our side and we'll try to keep it going," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.

The Penguins are trying to repeat what they did in 1992 and 1996, when they also trailed Washington 2-0 in playoff series but came back to win both times. To these Capitals, that's irrelevant.

What concerns them, however, is how the Penguins repeatedly beat rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, whose play in the first three games rivaled that of Ovechkin. He gave up goals on long shots by Gonchar and Ruslan Fedotenko, and he couldn't stop Sidney Crosby or Max Talbot in the third period after the Capitals twice pulled within a goal.

"He struggled," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Again, he's human."

The Penguins believed they could get to Varlamov by constantly pressuring him, and they did, shooting the puck almost any time they were within 40 feet of the goalie during the first period. To shut down Ovechkin, they relied mostly on defenseman Rob Scuderi.

"If you take the analogy of baseball players, they don't hit home runs all the time," Boudreau said of Ovechkin's off night. "They can go eight games and then they'll hit three, and everyone's back on the bandwagon."

The Capitals could use a home run or two from Ovechkin on Saturday night. Otherwise, they'll hear nothing for two days going into Game 6 except how they're about to join the 1992, 1995 and 1996 Capitals in squandering two-game playoff leads against Pittsburgh.

"It seems like when teams are in desperate situations they pull through and Pittsburgh's no different," defenseman Mike Green said. "The good thing is we're going back to our building, and it's a must-win."

At Raleigh, N.C., Eric Staal scored two goals to break the franchise career playoff scoring record, and Carolina pushed top-seeded Boston to the brink of elimination.

Jussi Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal at 2:52 of the third to help Carolina take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Game 5 is Sunday night in Boston.

Staal has 40 career points in the playoffs, one more than previous club mark set by current associate head coach Ron Francis. Jokinen also had two assists, Sergei Samsonov added a goal, and Cam Ward made 20 saves.

Marc Savard scored for Boston. The Bruins have lost three straight after sweeping Montreal in the first round and winning Game 1 against Carolina.

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