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July 18, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Since when did the NHL start getting lucky?
Everythingís coming up roses for the little league that couldnít. Thanks to David Steckelís 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 didnít jump. Washington even had to kill a penalty in the final two minutes of regulation to see overtime.
I didnít think they had it in them.
If the Pens go up 2-0 there, itís over. Book it. But the power play let them down yet again. Itís not how many goals you score on the power play; itís 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.
Viktor Kozlov: Greenpeace has a Most Wanted poster of Kozlov on its walls, because heís been killing Penguins for years. He has 16 career goals against Pittsburgh, the most heís 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 youíd think he was a perennial 50-goal scorer. But heís 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 Kozlovís two-goal explosion almost guarantees heíll disappear completely in Game Seven. Heís like a rainbow. Cherish the memories.
Alexander Semin: Washingtonís rally in the third started with a Semin splash. The Worldís 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 ďDeadliest Warrior.Ē Heís 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. Youíre 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: Washingtonís 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 didnít 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 heís incredibly lame and a 235-pound bag of douche? Thatís just Ovie being Ovie. Heís so silly. What a (sunshining) (sunshine).
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 Kozlovís 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 wasnít 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: Itís tough to blame Fleury for any of the goals. Kozlovís first was a bomb. Fleischmannís was the product of a fluky shot block. Hal Gill interfered with him on Kozlovís second. And the other two were deflections.
That said, five pucks got behind him. Thatís 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 heís been giving up softies each night. Heís got one chance for redemption. Itís never too late to mend.
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 theyíve hit that number in the past four contests. Thatís 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. Crosbyís motor wonít stop. What about Malkin? He wasnít real noticeable in Game Six.
Pittsburghís going to get chances. Washington simply isnít good enough to limit them in any significant way. But in the end, itís going to come down to special teams and goaltending. It always does.
And itís Fleuryís time to shine. Heís either a dominant No. 1 netminder or he isnít. Weíll have our answer come Wednesday.
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. Itís 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 canít wait to see how Bettman screws it up.