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An Anti-Climatic Finish

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) and Capitals Alex Ovechkin (8), shake hands following the Penguins' 6-2 win in Game 7 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON - Sidney Crosby by a knockout.

Crosby won the battle of the NHL superstars in emphatic fashion on Wednesday, scoring twice and adding an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 6-2 victory over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

"I think he works tirelessly on his game and really enjoys the competition, laying it on the line," coach Dan Bylsma said of Crosby. "We play the game to compete. We play the game to lay it on the line, and I think that's a situation he's prepared for, worked for and enjoys being in."

Crosby and Craig Adams scored eight seconds apart in the first period as the Penguins routed the Capitals in a game that was nothing like the first six games of the series. He set up Bill Guerin's backbreaker 28 seconds into the second period that made it 3-0, then punctuated the night with a power-play breakaway goal early in the third period

Ovechkin had the Caps' first goal -- but it didn't come until late in the second period, by which time the Penguins were coasting with a 5-0 lead.

The high-tempo, back-and-forth play that made the first six games a series for the ages was nowhere to be found in Game 7 -- especially after the quick goals by Crosby and Adams took the crowd out of the game. The Penguins were quicker to the puck all night long, kept the Caps hemmed in their own zone for long stretches and forced giveaway after giveaway from a Washington defensive unit that never found a way to slow down Pittsburgh's relentless forecheckers.

Any hope the Caps had of rallying from a 2-0 deficit after one period were doused quickly when Guerin and Kris Letang beat rookie Simeon Varlamov in the first 2:12 of the second period -- sending the 21-year-old Russian to the bench in favor of Jose Theodore.

Jordan Staal made it 5-0 midway through the period before the Caps got on the board at 18:09 when Ovechkin tucked the puck into a vacated net after Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed the puck behind the net.

The Penguins will play the winner of Game 7 between Carolina and Boston on Thursday  night in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Caps, who were ousted in the opening round last year, go home after a disappointing finish to an excellent season.

"We made it further than we did last year," Caps captain Chris Clark said. "We're one step closer to where we want to be, but obviously it's disappointing not to get to the next round."

Said a somber Ovechkin: "It's done. It's good experience for us. We have a pretty good team and we want to move forward. We're disappointed."

With the Verizon Center crowd roaring, the Caps came out and actually had the two best chances in the early going -- both by Ovechkin. He ripped a screened shot from the top of the slot 1:21 into the game that Fleury took in the midsection and covered. On his next shift, he went in on a breakaway only to be denied by Fleury's glove.

"If Alex had put that one in on the breakaway, who knows what would have happened," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The shots on goal were 4-4 through 11 minutes -- and then the wheels came off for the Capitals.

Shaone Morrisonn took a needless slashing penalty at 11:29, and the Penguins made Washington pay. Sergei Gonchar -- back in the lineup after missing the last two games with injury -- took a slap shot from the point that hit a body in front and deflected right to Crosby, who popped it into the open side at 12:36 for his seventh goal of the series.

"He's our captain, our leader," Fleury said of Crosby. "I think when guys on the team see him flying around the ice, giving it all he's got every shift, it's a great example to follow."

With the Caps and their fans still reeling, the Penguins needed only eight seconds to make it 2-0. Adams, who hadn't scored in 41 previous playoff games, took a pass from Ruslan Fedotenko and blasted a shot past Varlamov.

The rookie goaltender was under siege for the rest of the period, but kept the deficit at two goals with a handful of excellent saves as the Caps turned the puck over again and again. Pittsburgh outshot Washington 16-5 -- largely because the Caps turned the puck over 11 times.

"You've got to be ready every night," Boudreau said. "It's the playoffs, and if you put yourself in position like this, eventually you're not going to win games."

Guerin silenced the crowd on the first shift of the second period when he took a drop pass from Crosby and blasted a slap shot from the top of the right circle past Varlamov. Letang's goal just 1:44 later, a slapper from nearly the same spot off a drop pass from Evgeni Malkin, left the red-clad sellout crowd mute -- and persuaded Caps coach Bruce Boudreau to change goaltenders.

It didn't help. Pittsburgh continued to dominate play and made it 5-0 when Staal converted Miroslav Satan's pass at 11:37. Ovechkin's goal after a giveaway behind the net by Fleury with 1:51 left gave the sellout crowd something to cheer about before the intermission.

But with Brooks Laich serving a double minor for high-sticking Crosby, Pittsburgh's captain put an exclamation point on his night by scoring on a breakaway at 2:02 of the third period. Laich's goal at 6:36 was window-dressing for the Caps.
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