- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

After this Eastern Conference semifinal series began with such promise, the Washington Capitals are on the brink of another postseason collapse against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Evgeni Malkin sent a centering pass from the right wing toward Sidney Crosby near the left post, but it never got there. The puck hit a sliding Tom Poti and ricocheted into the net 3:28 into overtime Saturday night and the Penguins prevailed 4-3 to win for the third straight time, this time at sold-out Verizon Center in Game 5.

They can complete a comeback from a 2-0 deficit in this series Monday night in Game 6 at Mellon Arena.

Nearly four minutes from losing in regulation, Alex Ovechkin leveled the score at 3-3. Mike Green sent a pass from along the left wall to Nicklas Backstrom in the middle of the offensive zone, and the Swedish calmly slipped it to Ovechkin in the right circle for an easy one-timer at 15:52.

It was Ovechkin’s seventh of the series and 10th marker of the playoffs, which moved him past Crosby and Carolina’s Eric Staal for most in this postseason.

Broken up during the last series against the New York Rangers, Backstrom and Ovechkin were paired together again for this contest with excellent results. Backstrom was the best skater on the ice, and Ovechkin’s three points moved him past Crosby for the playoff scoring lead.

Save for a couple of early swings, this was an evenly-played contest for the first 34 minutes, but then Pittsburgh defenseman Hall Gill stepped on the ice too soon and the Caps seized the opening.

Sixteen seconds after the Penguins were whistled for the too many men infraction, Backstrom finished a perfectly executed give-and-go with Sergei Fedorov to give Washington its first lead at 14:35 of the second period.

Any momentum the Caps carried into the second intermission was gone less than a minute into the third period. Ruslan Fedotenko scored 51 seconds in after a nifty backhanded, between-the-legs drop pass from Malkin. Kris Letang was able to maneuver around a pick-pocket attempt by Ovechkin and then find Malkin with a long outlet pass to start the play.

Matt Cooke, who finished last season in a Washington uniform after a trade with Vancouver at the deadline, put Pittsburgh back in front at 6:27. For the second straight game, rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made two stops on a play but the guys in front of him offered little support.

He turned aside Tyler Kennedy’s shot from the right circle, and Jordan Staal’s rebound try, but Cooke was able to backhand the second rebound through a crowd.

After a spirited but scoreless first period, Staal scored his first goal of the playoffs to give Pittsburgh the lead. Miroslav Satan sent a pass from along the end boards near the right corner to Staal, who one-timed it from the inside edge of the right circle that beat Varlamov to the far side at 5:17 of the second.

For the second time in this series, Ovechkin had the response for Washington, and he didn’t wait long. Ovechkin brought the puck into zone and stopped near the left point. After a quick survey, he took a couple of quick, choppy strides and then ripped a shot into the top right corner from beyond the circle.

After Game 4, it was Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik who had the most incriminating remarks about Ovechkin’s knee-to-knee collision with Sergei Gonchar, who missed this contest.

It was also Orpik who went nose-to-nose with Ovechkin at the end of the first period in a confrontation that earned them both roughing minors and a stay in the penalty box to begin the middle period. And it was Orpik who was trying to defend the 2008 MVP on the goal, but ended up being a screen for his goalie instead.

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