LCS Hockey: Born Again
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June 19, 2019
Online: 187

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Crosby, Malkin Make Difference

Evgeni Malkin
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

That’s what superstars are for.

The Penguins are headed home with a chance to close out their series with the Caps thanks to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The two superstar centers dominated overtime of Game Five, willing the Pens to a clutch 4-3 victory.

Through three periods, Crosby had a game he’d rather forget. He missed yet another yawning cage, somehow misfiring on 24-square feet of twine from the middle of the slot, and he forced more than one ridiculous pass into traffic, the worst being a spinning, behind-the-back prayer intended for Hal Gill of all people. Then, with the Pens protecting a 3-2 lead late in regulation, Sid got caught watching the puck and left Nicklas Backstrom unmarked, leading to a short two-on-one that resulted in Alexander Ovechkin’s tying goal.

But when the puck dropped for overtime, Crosby took over, making a dynamic rush around John Erskine that left the rugged blueliner and Simeon Varlamov wrecked. Only that damn straight blade of his prevented Sid from tucking home the winner. Even though he failed to score, the mad dash set the tone.

Less than a minute after Crosby’s rampage, Geno the Scoring Machine-o blitzed the Washington defense, slicing through the middle and forcing Milan Jurcina into a tripping penalty to prevent a clean chance.

Pittsburgh’s power play spent the subsequent two minutes creating a whole lot of nothing, with Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski seeing who could refuse the most shots, but Malkin and Crosby had enough left for one final push in the waning seconds of the man-advantage.

Malkin took a pass from Chris Kunitz and stormed up the right wing against Sergei Fedorov. Why Fedorov? Because Washington’s defense is so pathetic, Bruce Boudreau started using the veteran center along the blue line. Boudreau didn’t intend to use Fedorov on the kill, but when Shaone Morrisonn took a short shift, Fedorov was pressed into action.

Malkin kicked it into another gear and barreled around Fedorov like he was, well, a 39-year-old center playing defense. Crosby screamed in from the left wing to create a two-on-one down low. Malkin ticketed a backhand pass for Crosby’s stick only to see the puck deflect off the sprawling Tom Poti and behind Varlamov for the winner.

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had that pass gone through. Crosby had left David Steckel in the dust and was all alone at the lip of the crease. I’m guessing things still would have ended.

Crosby and Malkin took the game over. Period.

Washington got a similar effort from one of its stars. And, no, I’m not talking about Ovechkin. Sure, Ovechkin will get all the hype for scoring the two goals, and he is without question the best goal-scorer on the planet, but he was nowhere near as good as Backstrom on this night.

The slick Swedish center was spectacular. He finished with a goal, an assist, and a team-high seven shots. He worked a real swank give-and-go with Fedorov to put the Caps in front 2-1 in the second, piping a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder. Backstrom also orchestrated the tying goal at the end of the third, taking advantage of Crosby’s defensive miscue to freeze Fleury and slip a pass across to Ovechkin for the finish. Backstrom was the tops.

This was easily Washington’s best game of the series. The Caps came out flying and registered the first eight shots of the game before Pittsburgh rallied to finish the frame on even terms. Jordan Staal buried the game’s first goal at 5:17 of the second, and it seemed like the Penguins were poised to take control until Ovechkin responded 59 seconds later to knot the score.

And Ovechkin’s goal was a might impressive. At the end of his shift and somewhat gassed, Ovechkin gained the stripe on left wing and pulled up. Brooks Orpik backed off to the top of the circle and just stood there, thinking Ringo didn’t pose much of a threat from that distance. Brooks was misinformed.

Ovechkin took two steps and whistled a wrister by Fleury’s ear from 58 feet. No one else in the known universe could have scored that goal. If that puck was shot any faster, it would have gone back in time and prevented Fleury’s parents from marrying.

Oh, and get a load of this: I saw Ovechkin come back into the defensive zone. I rib you not. It happened on his first shift of overtime. He skated all the way into the corner and helped work the puck up the wall. Sadly, unfamiliar with his surroundings, Ovechkin curled up into a ball and wept until the next whistle.

And Mike Green’s played hockey before, right? Or did he just win an essay contest or something? Because he is so bad he’s terrible. I’ve never seen a big-name defenseman this hopeless in his own end. There’s no conviction behind anything he does. Is he injured? Like, did he lose his testicles at some point or undergo a full frontal lobotomy? Otherwise, I really can’t figure it out. Good luck with that whole Norris Trophy thing.

At least the Caps continue to get solid efforts out of their third- and fourth-liners. Steckel even had a glorious chance to end things in OT, but he muffed a shot at the bottom of the right circle. That’s a shame.

Rob Scuderi
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

Pittsburgh’s third line also had a swell night, getting goals from Staal and Matt Cooke. Nice to finally see some secondary scoring. Miroslav Satan even set up Staal’s tally, earning his second assist in as many games. And what about Ruslan Fedotenko? He launched 10 shots on net and erased Washington’s 2-1 lead when he unloaded a laser rocket shot over Varlamov’s glove 51 seconds into the third period. That’s three straight with a goal for Fedotenko.

The Capitals played their best game and still lost. Not only did they lose, they gave up 42 shots. That doesn’t bode well for Game Six. But guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin don’t need much. One mistake, and it’s in the net. Washington always has a puncher’s chance.

In Pittsburgh, Dan Byslma will be able to dictate matchups. That means plenty of Sid and Geno against Green, and a steady diet of Gill and Scuderi for Ovechkin.

It’s interesting to note Ovechkin scored his tying goal from the right side. He started switching late in the game to avoid Scuderi. Ovechkin fears Scuderi. Pass it on.

The Penguins have momentum and home ice. They also have Crosby and Malkin. The Caps? They’ve got worry.

LCS Hockey: Born Again
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