PITTSBURGH | Kris Letang left Game 2 of this series with an injury. Not only did he play in Game 3, he ended it.
Letang’s goal with 8:37 left in overtime gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory Wednesday night and cut the Washington Capitals’ lead in this Eastern Conference seminfinal to 2-1 at sold-out Mellon Arena.
It was a valiant effort from rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov, who made 39 saves, but he couldn’t get Letang’s shot after it deflected off defenseman Shaone Morrisonn in front. Sidney Crosby won a faceoff to the right of Varalmov back to Sergei Gonchar, who sent a pass to Letang at the top of the zone.
Evgeni Malkin ended his goal-scoring slump with a power-play goal late in the third period to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. He took a drop pass from Crosby, cut back to the middle of the past Caps penalty killer Brooks Laich and snapped a shot just under the crossbar with Bill Guerin in front.
The goal was Malkin’s first in six games, and he punctuated it with an Alex Ovechkin-esque leap into the glass near the Washington bench.
But Pascal Dupuis was sent to the penalty box for setting a pick at the offensive blue line — a maneuver that was hotly contested by both sides during the time off between Games 2 and 3 — and the Caps’ power play took advantage to force overtime.
Nicklas Backstrom scored his goal of this postseason with 1:50 left in regulation. The puck came to him along the goal line to the left of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Backstrom shot the puck off of Fleury and into the net to set off a celebration and silence a standing-room only crowd that was less than two minutes from rejoicing over their team being back in the series.
It was only the third time in franchise history the Caps have sent a playoff game into overtime with a goal in the final two minutes of regulation.
A wacky bounce off the boards behind the Pittsburgh net led to an Ovechkin goal on the first shot of the game. Mike Green sent the puck into the Penguins zone from along the right wall, and the puck shot past a stunned Fleury and into the slot.
Fleury, who lost his stick as the puck went past him, tried to dive for Ovechkin’s shot, but the Hart Trophy finalist put the Caps in front 1-0 just 83 seconds into the contest.
Ovechkin’s goal was his eighth of the postseason, tying him with Crosby for the most in these Stanley Cup playoffs. It was also Ovechkin’s fifth of this series.
The Penguins received a fortunate bounce of their own to level the score at one in a very one-sided second period. Caps defenseman Tom Poti fell down near the offensive blue line, and a 2-on-1 for Pittsburgh ensued.
Ruslan Fedotenko tried to send a pass to Max Talbot, but Milan Jurcina blocked it. The puck came right back to Fedotenko and he put it in before goalie Simeon Varlamov could recover.
Pittsburgh dominated the middle period, outshooting the Caps 15-4 and spending the vast majority of it on offense. But Varlamov, the 21-year-old rookie sensation, kept the Caps even.
Varlamov continued his star turn since taking over for Jose Theodore after Game 1 of the team’s first-round series against the New York Rangers. He entered the night with a league-best 1.51 goals against average in this postseason, but he did not buckle despite an onslaught of pressure and bodies strewn about in front of him.