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Penguins eliminate Caps with 6-2 victory @NHL

Dan Rosen | Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The hype for the first installment of Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Unprecedented.

The goods? Delivered.

The end? Um, can we get a do-over?

The first of what everyone now hopes will be many epic playoff battles between generational superstars Crosby and Ovechkin was unpredictable right until the final buzzer. It's just too bad it ended with a thud, or rather, a dud.

Crosby scored the first goal of the night, and the Pittsburgh Penguins followed his lead. They chased Simeon Varlamov, the Capitals' 21-year-old overnight star goalie, after barely 22 minutes of action and their resounding 6-2 victory sent them skating into the Eastern Conference Finals for a second straight season.

The Penguins will play the winner of Thursday night's Game 7 between the Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes at Boston. If Carolina can do what the Penguins did Wednesday -- win Game 7 on the road after losing Game 6 at home -- Pittsburgh will open the Conference Final at Mellon Arena.

Odds are no matter which opponent the Penguins play in the next round, the drama won't even come close to matching this one. Ovechkin finished with 14 points and Crosby had 13 -- including two goals and an assist on Wednesday -- but the only stat that matters now is Crosby leads his rival 1-0 in playoff series wins.

"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."

No one will, at least not for a long time.

Game 7, though, didn't have nearly the cachet as Games 1-6. There was no overtime. No give and take on the scoreboard. No drama.

Just Penguins goals. Lots and lots of Penguins goals.

"We built on a lead, which I don't think is something we did throughout the whole series," Crosby said. "That was big. Varlamov made some huge saves throughout the whole series, but tonight I'm sure he'd like a couple back."

Crosby, who kept answering the bell, did it again Wednesday. He scored a power-play goal 12:36 into the first period from, where else, right in front of the blue paint. Fourth-liner Craig Adams doubled the lead just eight seconds later.

The Penguins led 2-0 after a first period in which they outshot the Caps 16-5, including 13-1 in the last 14 minutes. Pittsburgh also outshot Washington 18-5 in the first period of Game 6 but came away leading only 1-0.

The Capitals played with fire two nights ago. They got burned Wednesday.

However, the story was almost completely different.

Ovechkin could have given the Caps an early 1-0 lead, but Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stoned him on a breakaway just three minutes into the game, using his outstretched glove to rob Ovechkin of a sure goal.

That save, Crosby said, sent a message to the entire Pittsburgh team.

"You dodge a bullet and it allows you to calm down a little bit," No. 87 said. "Marc did an awesome job. He stood tall and was huge for us."

Barely two minutes had passed in second period and already the Capitals were looking for cover. Guerin scored off a feed from Crosby, who stopped in the right circle and could have passed to Chris Kunitz cutting to the net or Guerin trailing behind him.

He chose Guerin, who blasted a shot inside the far left post 28 seconds into the period.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said at that point he thought about pulling Varlamov, or at least calling a timeout. He did neither, and the goalie would only last another 104 seconds. Evgeni Malkin sent an uncontested pass across the ice to Kris Letang, who fired from the top of the right circle and beat Varlamov over his left shoulder at 2:12.

"The tendency in a big game would be to back off your game and let the play come to you," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "What we talked about was resetting the (score) at 0-0 and getting back to our game. Those two goals were an indication of our mindset."

Crosby-Ovechkin Gear Alex Ovechkin Gear Sidney Crosby Gear After Letang scored, Ovechkin could be seen with his head down on the bench and Jose Theodore, who hadn't been seen since surrendering four goals on 21 shots in Game 1 to the New York Rangers more a month ago, went searching for his stick and helmet.

Varlamov faced 18 shots and stopped only 14.

"When it was 4-0, I just felt like I wanted to put a towel over my head and leave," Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann said. "We were just shocked at what happened."

The mindset wasn't right for the Capitals all night. They didn't get good goaltending and they were porous when the puck was on their sticks. Mike Green, who Boudreau admitted was injured throughout the playoffs, played only 43 seconds in the third period.

He was that sloppy.

"It was definitely anticlimactic," Boudreau said of Game 7. "It certainly wasn't the way I would have envisioned it, scripted it, you know. Whether we won or lost, I never would have thought that we would have ended up in a game like it was tonight."

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Sidney Crosby showed off another one of his remarkable attributes when he scored the first goal of the night. Of course, No. 87 was at the net -- he should pay a rental charge to the Capitals because he has made a home out of the area just in front of the blue paint. After David Steckel appeared to deflect Sergei Gonchar's point shot on the power play, Crosby was able to deftly stop the puck, which was headed for the end boards, with his right skate. He played it to his forehand for an easy slam-dunk goal from just outside the right post 12:36 into the first period -- starting the Penguins' onslaught.

It's time to give some love to Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, the defensive pair that was handed the unenviable task of checking Alex Ovechkin nearly every time the Capitals' superstar left wing was on the ice. Ovechkin finished with 14 points in the series, so he certainly didn't disappoint and it's hard to say he was contained, but without Gill and Scuderi it could have been a heck of a lot worse for the Penguins. That unheralded pair deserves a lot of praise for Pittsburgh winning Games 3, 4 and 5, when Ovechkin was held (using the term loosely) to 3 goals and 3 assists. Yes, that's two points per game, but one of the goals was off a fluky bounce and two of the assists were of the secondary variety.

Before the Penguins ran roughshod over the Capitals, there was a glimmer of hope in the red-clad Verizon Center. The Capitals came out flying and took it to the Penguins in the first few minutes. However, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury answered with four saves, none bigger than the masterful glove stop he made on Alex Ovechkin, who was in alone on a breakaway three minutes into the game. Washington fans will say Ovechkin shot the puck right into Fleury's glove, but the goalie's positioning was so sound that it enabled him to make the brilliant save and keep the game scoreless.

Two goals in eight seconds. That's it. You don't need to know anything else. Yes, the Penguins dominated the first period by outshooting the Capitals  16-5. Yes, the Penguins held possession nearly the entire last 13 minutes of the period. Yes, the Penguins had the only two power plays in the period. All good stats, but the only one that mattered is that the Penguins were ahead 2-0 at the first intermission because Sidney Crosby and Craig Adams scored just eight seconds apart. Crosby's 11th goal of the playoffs came 12:36 into the period and we'll let you figure out for yourself when Adams got his first goal in 42 career playoff games.

We're not sure if it was a motivating factor for the Penguins, but Sergei Gonchar did his best Willis Reed impersonation (apologize for the basketball reference) by playing on his bum right knee. Gonchar, who hadn't taken a shift since his knee collided with Ovechkin's just 14:55 into Game 4, assisted on Crosby's first goal and because of the score was able to play limited minutes in the third period. This bodes well for the Penguins going forward.
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