My apologies for being late with this article. I did not have much time between the Caps game, and the D.C. United home match which I attended at RFK yesterday evening. I also was unable to get to a computer to do this until this evening. I did get the mojority of this written on Saturday afternoon however. So, with that, here is my writeup.
The Washington Capitals, and their legions of red rockin fans such as myself have 4 people to directly thank for Saturdays game 1of the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinal series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at sold out, and deafeningly loud Verizon Center. They are, in order:
1. Simeon Varlamov (Pictured at left)
2. David Steckel
3. Alex Ovechkin
4. Tomas Fleischmann
More on why Simeon Varlamov gets top billing for being due thanks, and why he got the games #1 star in a bit. Now onto the game.
In the matchup that the NHL, and the rest of the sporting world has been waiting for and hoping to see, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby went head to head for the first time in the playoffs at last. Both players had good games, and both players scored for their teams, but there was little more fanfare between the two players of any kind. By and large, scoring aside, this game was uneventful between Ovechkin and Crosby.
The Washington Capitals started this game off on the wrong foot, looking very sluggish, lazy, and giving the puck away to the Penguins who were peppering Simeon Varlamov, left and right. For the first 4 minutes or so of the game, the Capitals were sleepwalking, all too familiar of the Capitals past. And as the scripts of old would have it, the Capitals surrendered an early go to none other than the Penguins star, Sidney Crosby at 4:09 of the first period. The only difference this time, was that there were very few Penguins fans in the stands to make any noise. Crosby came in unfedered and unleashed a fantastic wrist shot that easily beat Varlamov. The Capitals would remain flat and largely on their heels for almost the next 10 minutes of the game. Suddenly, things began clicking for the Caps, and they came to life. Dave Stekel, Matt Bradley, and Brooks Laich rushed into the Penguins zone and got the puck in deep along the right wing boards. Then, Dave Steckel did something most Caps fans have been emploring the Capitals to do since game 1 of round 1, and that is go straight to the net. As soon as he arrived in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Bradly threw the puck towards the front of the net, and it found the blade of Stekel's stick, and he buried it the net behind Fleury, becoming Washingtons first hero of the series tying the game at 1 a peice at 13:50. The leigons of red clad Caps fans erupted, and finally could breathe a sigh of relief. The first goal was out of the way. It was a gritty goal that was not necessarily pretty, but even those goals count too. Good things happen when you throw the puck on the net, and when you go to the net. Not only did Bradly tie the game, but he changed the momentum drastically for the reaminder of the period to the Caps favor. About 2 minutes later at 15:14, the Capitals would get what would be thier only power play chance of the game when former Capital Sergei Gonchar was sent to the box for sending the puck over the glass in his own zone, delay of game. The pressure was mounting on the Penguins, and the Capitals were pushing hard for the score. Then, things turned even more favorable for the home team when Matt Cooke was sent off for hooking at 16:15. The Caps were given a rare opportunity, thier first two man advantage of this playoff season. Washington kept the pressure on, and just 48 seconds after the call on Cooke, and with just 11 seconds left on the 5 on 3 advantage, the Caps Alex Ovechkin made certain that Caps took full advantage of the Penguins penalties and slammed hope a hard one timer slapshot from the left wing circle that blured past Fleury and into the far side of the net for the Caps first lead of the game , and of the series. The momentum continued in the Caps favor for the rest of the period, however at 19:47 Chris Clark was sent off for holding, giving the Penguins thier second power play chance of the game. The Pens could not score in the remaining 13 seconds of the period and the Capitals would go into the locker room still with some momentum on thier side, and to a standing ovation from the sold out red crowd.
The second period started off fairly well for Washington, even though the Penguins had the carry over power play for the first 1:47 of the period. The Caps killed the pentaly and things continued looking fairly good, however play was evening out, and the Penguins were once again getting chances, and starting to dictate the tempo of play. Midway through the 2nd period, Evgeni Malkin would find Mark eaton who scored form the top of the left circle on a slap shot that appeared to be just slightly deflected. Varlamov got a peice of it, but it somehow just squeezed through his gloved hand, arm, and torso, and once again the game was tied. The rest of the period saw Pittsburgh get one more power play chance at 6:29 when Chris Clark was once again set off, this time for a trip. The Capitals manged to kill off this penatly as well, with help from Varlamov who at times stood on his head and made some spectacular saves. Varlamov was once again fantastic between the pipes for Washington. With about 2 minutes left in the period, Crosby recieved a fantastic pass and was open all alone in front of a gaping net at the left side, and shot the puck for what appared to be the easy lay up goal. Simeon Varlamov had other ideas. Somehow, while facing the opposite direction he saw Crosby, and slid over just in time, and reached his stick back behind him and pulled the puck which was bound for the back of the net, off of the goal line and out, for what arguably is the save of the entire NHL playoffs thus far, and possibly of this entire NHL season. Truely an unbeliveable save. As Capitals TV announcer Joe Bennanati would say, "simply sensational!". The period would end with the score knotted at 2 each.
Here is the must see video of "The Save":
The Capitals came out to start the third like a team with a purpose. The uptick in thier play very early this period would pay off at 1:46. Alexander Semin picked up a pass just above the Penguins blue line on the right wing side. He had both Nickalas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann streaking into the Pens zone with him and he found Backstrom open in the left side face off circle and fed a pass to him. Meanwhile Fleischmann dashed to the right side of the net just in front of Fleury. Backstrom would thread a perfect pass past the falling and sprawling Sergei Gonchar to him, that Fleischmann would bang home past a sliding Fleury for the lead, and what would ultimately become the game winning goal.
The penguins continued pushing hard for the tie, but once again Simeon Varlamov who was called upon to come up big, and delivered. Penguins pressed and pressed, and ended up out shooting the Capitals once again this period, 13-6, and ultimately for the game by 37-26. But shots do not mean a thing if they do not go in. It also should be pointed out that shots that beat the goaltender but hit the post and do not go in, do not count on the shot clock. The Penguins had plenty of help from the pipe surrounding the goal behind Fleury as the Capitals hit 2 or 3 posts during the game. The Penguines also had plenty of help in the form of power play chances, as they were given a total of 5 for the game, to the Capitals 1. However the Penguins could not get past the Capitals penalty killing unit, which was perfect for this game. As time wound down do the last minute and 1/2, the Penguins pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of a 6th attacker, but to no avail. The Capitals red clad faithful rose to thier feet and watched standing the rest of the game as the Capitals kept the Pens from setting up much of any offence, and missed the empty Penguins net by only a few inches twice. Finally, the countdown was on at the final 10 seconds, but it could hardly be heard becuase of the deafening cheers comeing from the stands. And thus the Capitals find themselves in familliar territory in the post season once again, leading the Penguins 1 game to 0 in a best of 7 Stanley Cup Playoff series. The series, rivalry, and persuit of the Caps first ever Stanly Cup resumes once again monday night in front of another sold out, red rockin crowd at Verizon Center.
Lets Go Caps ! ! !