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June 26, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
It took two games, but Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins finally woke up. Thanks to a dominant effort from Geno the Scoring Machine-o and a renewed commitment to good old fashioned hard work, the Penguins whipped the Washington Capitals everywhere but the scoreboard in Game Three, emerging with a 3-2 overtime triumph.
Sidney Crosby, whoís had a tough time on draws this series, set up the game-winner with a clean win in the right circle, pushing the puck back to Mark Eaton who touched it to Kris Letang at center point. Letangís drive nicked Shaone Morrisonn, no doubt catching one of the many superfluous letters in his train wreck of a name, and skipped over Simeon Varlamovís left shoulder for the winner at 11:23 of the extra session. Yes, there was much rejoicing.
While the ending was beautiful, the game hardly started that way for the Pens. Just 1:23 into the opening frame, Marc-Andre Fleury decided to try out for the javelin team and fired his stick into the backboards on a routine dump-in. The puck, apparently fearing for its life, kicked off the wall and jumped into the slot, its rapid change of direction catching Fleury out of the net. Alexander Ovechkin pounced on the loose pill and pumped it into the open twine for the early 1-0 lead.
Seriously, it had to go to Ovechkin? It couldnít have wound up on Boyd Gordonís stick?
Anyway, the freakish bad bounce put the Pens on their heels and took the crowd out of the game. Washington had a glorious opportunity to go up 2-0 when Sergei Gonchar took an interference penalty at 9:38, but the Birds killed it and slowly clawed their way back into contention.
By the end of the first period, Pittsburgh carried the play. Malkin announced his arrival with a mad dash behind the Washington defense to chase down a loose puck and test Varlamov with a quick forehand move. He didnít score, but it was the first time in the series Malkin actually tried. His all-out effort on the play set the tone for the rest of the night. From that point on, it was all Pittsburgh.
The Penguins imposed their will in the second period, establishing the aggressive forecheck and dogged puck pursuit that became their hallmark under Dan Bylsma. No more trying to make fancy plays. No more passing up shots. They got the puck deep and worked.
Pittsburgh cycled the Caps silly, finishing the night with 44 hits. The Pens had 40 hits in the first two games combined.
It was complete domination. Not only did the constant pressure lead to seven power plays, the Pens tilted the rink and kept the puck away from the likes of Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom.
Truth be told, all the power plays probably hurt the Penguin cause. The man-advantage still looks terrible and only served to disrupt their five-on-five superiority. Yet it took a power-play goal from Malkin to finally solve Varlamov.
Without their rookie netminder, the Capitals would have been humiliated. Varlamov is the only reason this game wasnít a laugher. That kidís got the goods. Over at the NHL.com, they always put together a bunch of highlights of the gameís best saves. Well, Fleury had one stop make the cut in Game Three. Varlamov had 10.
Malkin broke through at 15:01 of the third to notch his first of the series. He took the puck from Crosby at the right circle and made a power move into the high slot before whipping a wrist shot behind Varlamov.
In Games One and Two, Malkin never would have cut into the slot like that. And even if he had, he would have ignored the shot in favor of trying to pass down low. He was much more determined in Game Three. There was conviction behind everything he did. No coasting. His feet were always moving. He was the best player on the ice.
Were Malkinís parents in D.C.? Because they were on hand for Game Three, and he always lights it up in front of his parents. But why was his mom wearing red? Then again, why were all the Penguin fans wearing white like the Caps? There are no easy answers.
Give the Caps credit; they didnít quit. Even though they had been slapped around the previous 40 minutes, the Capitals hung in there and cashed in on a late power play to force overtime. Backstrom did the honors, banking an Ovechkin rebound off Fleury with just 1:50 left in regulation.
Backstromís goal should have been a backbreaker. Itís brutal to thoroughly dominate an opponent and have nothing to show for it. Worse yet, the Caps were one shot away from taking a 3-0 series lead and putting dimes on the Pensí eyes.
And who gets the winner? Letang. The same guy I said should have been scratched. Hereís hoping the goal gives him the confidence to keep sticking it to me the rest of the series.
Sure, the Pens have new life, but theyíre not out of the woods yet. This win wonít mean much if they drop Game Four. And keep in mind, Games Four and Five are back-to-back. If the Caps steal Game Four Friday night, this thing could be over in a hurry.
But if the Pens stick to the plan, they wonít lose. Get the puck deep, work, and throw pucks on net. Varlamov has been spectacular, but heíll crack. Rebounds and traffic are kryptonite to any young goaltender.