- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

Sure, some of the Pittsburgh Penguins fans will bring Terrible Towels to Verizon Center two Sundays from now, but supporters of the Washington Capitals might have different accessories with them.

They can bring brooms.

Five different Caps scored in a thorough 5-2 beating as Washington defeated Pittsburgh for the third time in as many tries this season, clinching the season series against the Penguins for the first time since 2002-03. The Caps have never won every game in a season against Pittsburgh, but they will go for the sweep March 8.

“We always like to beat those guys,” Donald Brashear said. “We might face down in the playoffs, so we want to put it in their minds that they can’t beat us.”

The Caps are now 4-1-1 against their rivals since Bruce Boudreau became their coach - a distinct reversal from the 1-7-1 record in the first nine games between the teams after Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the league.

Pittsburgh fired coach Michel Therrien eight days ago, and new bench boss Dan Bylsma has promised a more aggressive, offensive-minded approach. But this game played out much like the previous contest between these two teams, a 6-3 win for the Caps in which the puck spent much more time in the Washington offensive zone.

Two days after the Caps put forth one of their worst efforts of the season, they responded with one of their best. Washington collected two power-play goals, held Pittsburgh to one despite eight extra-man opportunities and decisively carried the even-strength play.

“We played terrible against Colorado,” said Ovechkin, who had a goal and an assist. “[Today] we played simple and played our system with great energy, and all four lines play awesome. Sometimes you need to lose like that to realize you have to work harder and do a better job.”

Former Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar brought the Penguins within a goal at 3-2 after a cross-ice pass from Crosby at 4:46 of the second. But Washington continued to control the play, and the Caps eventually struck for a pair of goals 25 seconds apart to blow the game open.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Ovechkin’s shot from the top of the zone, but the rebound came to Shaone Morrisonn, who blistered a slap shot from the outside of the left circle that caught the goaltender by surprise at 12:56.

Seconds later Tom Poti’s slap shot deflected into the left corner without getting through, but Brooks Laich retrieved the puck and banked it in off Fleury’s back from below the goal line to put Washington in front 5-2 and chase Fleury.

If the Penguins, less than 24 hours removed from a spirited 5-4 victory against Philadelphia, had thoughts of mustering the energy necessary to complete a dramatic comeback, the Caps quickly put an end to them.

“We thought if we could keep attacking that they would tire,” Boudreau said. “It is natural. Your team is tired in the second half of back-to-back games, especially the rivalry they have with Philadelphia and getting up for that and then the rivalry they have us, it is tough. When you get the 4-2 or 5-2 lead, you could see their shoulders start to sag a little bit.”

Ovechkin put the Caps on the board first with a power-play goal at 6:53 of the opening period. Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a give-and-go on the right side of the zone, and then Backstrom flipped a backhanded pass to Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left faceoff circle.

Maxime Talbot evened the score midway through the period. Because it was a four-on-four situation with a Caps power play pending, Boudreau went with three forwards but it ended up costing him. Jose Theodore stopped Mark Eaton’s slap shot, but Talbot pounced on the rebound at 12:08.

Alexander Semin made it 2-1 less than an minute later. There was a scrum along the left wall during the Caps’ power play, and the puck kicked out sharply to the slot where Semin was waiting. He collected it and was all alone against Fleury, and he calmly waited out the netminder before snapping in his 22nd marker of the season.

Semin helped Fedorov make it a two-goal lead 56 seconds into the second period. He stole the puck from Jordan Staal along the right wall near the offensive blue line and slipped it to Fedorov, who ripped a slap shot past Fleury.

“They’re skilled, and they come with a strong forecheck and force mistakes,” Crosby said. “We came in here and worked hard today [but] didn’t have some things go our way.”