LCS Hockey: Born Again
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March 25, 2019
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Wow



Since when did the NHL start getting lucky?

Everything’s coming up roses for the little league that couldn’t. Thanks to David Steckel’s deflection at 6:22 of overtime, the Washington Capitals escaped the Igloo with a thrilling 5-4 victory in Game Six, granting the NHL seven full games of Crosby v. Ovechkin and ensuring hockey will be at the center of the sports universe for at least one night.

Game Seven will be Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Should be a wild, wild scene. And it just so happens we have a fake radio show scheduled for 9PM EST that night. It could be the rare opportunity to hear grown men cry live on the air.

Despite being outshot 42-24 and outplayed for large portions of the game, the Capitals earned Game Six. They displayed remarkable character throughout, weathering an early onslaught and never quitting despite being presented with numerous opportunities to fold.

Pittsburgh scored late in the second to tie the game, early in the third to take the lead, and seemed a lock to close it out. Lesser teams would have called it a night. But the Caps battled back and took a 4-3 lead on goals by Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov, not exactly the most rugged of playoff performers.

Crosby scored with 4:18 left in the third to push the Caps closer to the edge, but they still didn’t jump. Washington even had to kill a penalty in the final two minutes of regulation to see overtime.

I didn’t think they had it in them.


TURNING POINT
It actually came in the first period. Already up 1-0 on a Bill Guerin goal, the Penguins had a two-man advantage for a full minute midway through the period and couldn’t cash in. Crosby took an interference penalty with just four seconds left on the two-man to wipe out the rest of the power play.

If the Pens go up 2-0 there, it’s over. Book it. But the power play let them down yet again. It’s not how many goals you score on the power play; it’s when you score them.

Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Tom Poti were out for the entire kill. Simeon Varlamov made four saves, two on Malkin and two on Boucher.

Banner work from the penalty killers on not only that two-man but also the penalty at the end of regulation. Orange whips all around.


TOP PERFORMANCES – WASHINGTON

Viktor Kozlov: Greenpeace has a Most Wanted poster of Kozlov on its walls, because he’s been killing Penguins for years. He has 16 career goals against Pittsburgh, the most he’s scored against any NHL team. He was a little too quiet during the first five games. It was only a matter of time.

Kozlov has an absolute canon. His first goal was ridiculous. Watch him shoot a puck, and you’d think he was a perennial 50-goal scorer. But he’s never had more than 25 in any one campaign. Proof yet again that it takes more than skill to be a superstar.

The good news for Penguins fans is that Kozlov’s two-goal explosion almost guarantees he’ll disappear completely in Game Seven. He’s like a rainbow. Cherish the memories.

Alexander Semin: Washington’s rally in the third started with a Semin splash. The World’s Most Dangerous Man was at his swishy best, diving to the ice to draw an imaginary hooking penalty to Brooks Orpik. Look for Semin on season two of “Deadliest Warrior.” He’s scheduled to fight Jim J. Bullock.

To be fair, Semin was legitimately tripped two other times in the game without getting a call, so I reckon he had one coming. But the Caps should have a dynamite synchronized swimming team with Semin and Steckel, who went for a dip to send Crosby to the box.

Flopping aside, Semin was a factor all night, lugging the puck with much more conviction and coming dangerously close to competing. You’re the tops, Sally.

Simeon Varlamov: The Penguins have tagged him for 13 goals the past three games, but Varlamov is the only reason the Capitals are still kicking. His 17 saves in the first period gave the Caps a chance to win.

Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich: Washington’s third- and fourth-liners have been pretty consistent throughout the series, so it was nice to see the unheralded guys come through with some big goals. Laich got credit for the third tally, which was originally credited to Semin, by doing his best Tomas Holmstrom imitation. He also snapped the puck on net that Steckel tipped behind Fleury for the winner.

Not Alexander Ovechkin: He did make (gasp!) a nice pass to Kozlov on the first goal and tested Fleury with a hard drive in overtime, but he was almost a complete non-factor. People are going to see the three assists and five shots and think he was a force, but nothing could be further from the truth. The other two assists were garbage, and he didn’t have a single shot within 38 feet of the net. He came up s-m-all.

After the game, Ovechkin skated off the ice and held his glove to his lips, telling the Penguin fans to be quiet. Yeah, way to go, tough guy. Like you had a damn thing to do with it.

Aw, but who cares if he’s incredibly lame and a 235-pound bag of douche? That’s just Ovie being Ovie. He’s so silly. What a (sunshining) (sunshine).


TOP PERFORMANCES – PITTSBURGH

Sidney Crosby: Kid Crosby had a real solid game through the first two periods, but his limping to the bench after a shot block directly led to Kozlov’s first goal. He no doubt felt like he owed the team one. So when the Pens fell behind 4-3 in the third, Sid put on the Superman cape. Crosby wasn’t going to be denied. He drove the net each time he touched the puck and willed that tying goal into existence.

Not Marc-Andre Fleury: It’s tough to blame Fleury for any of the goals. Kozlov’s first was a bomb. Fleischmann’s was the product of a fluky shot block. Hal Gill interfered with him on Kozlov’s second. And the other two were deflections.

That said, five pucks got behind him. That’s not good enough. The bottom line is Varlamov outplayed him. Again.

Fleury is still looking for his first good game of the series. He turned in some key saves in the three wins, but he’s been giving up softies each night. He’s got one chance for redemption. It’s never too late to mend.


WHAT NEXT?
Game Sevens are always a crapshoot. Throw momentum out the window. It’s a brave new world when the puck drops.

Beware the early power plays. They can be a curse. The refs always find a way to even up the calls. So if you get power plays early, you better score.

I realize Washington is all giddy, but the Caps gave up 42 shots in Game Six, marking the third time they’ve hit that number in the past four contests. That’s trouble. All the Pens have to do is stick to the plan. Get the puck deep and go to work.

Fatigue will be a factor. It will be the fifth game in eight days. Will Pittsburgh have enough left to play that aggressive style? And if the Pens can muster the energy, will Varlamov be strong enough to face another 40-shot barrage?

Ovechkin will no doubt be flying. Crosby’s motor won’t stop. What about Malkin? He wasn’t real noticeable in Game Six.

Pittsburgh’s going to get chances. Washington simply isn’t good enough to limit them in any significant way. But in the end, it’s going to come down to special teams and goaltending. It always does.

And it’s Fleury’s time to shine. He’s either a dominant No. 1 netminder or he isn’t. We’ll have our answer come Wednesday.

CHICAGO ADVANCES
The Vancouver-Chicago Game Six was equally incredible, with the Hawks prevailing 7-5 behind a Patrick Kane hat trick. The two teams combined for six third-period goals. Vancouver couldn’t protect 4-3 and 5-4 leads, giving up goals 49 seconds apart to Kane and Jonathan Toews to fall behind 6-5. Kane then iced it with a swell individual effort.

At what point can we quit talking about Roberto Luongo as the best goalie in the NHL? He gave up seven on 30 shots in a must-win game. It’s tough to be the best goaltender in the league when you never get out of the second round.

But both of these games brought back memories of the early 1990s. Great stuff. I can’t wait to see how Bettman screws it up.




LCS Hockey: Born Again
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