- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

After this Eastern Conference semifinal series began with such promise, the Washington Capitals are a loss away 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 the stick of a sliding Tom Poti and ricocheted into the net 3:28 into overtime Friday night, and the Penguins prevailed 4-3 to win for the third straight time.

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

“It happens to everybody,” defenseman Brian Pothier said of the bad bounce. “Anybody who has played any length of time has unlucky bounces. His stick was probably in a great position, and nine times out of 10, he stops it. One fluky time it goes in the net.”

Added Malkin: “I was trying to backhand a pass to [Crosby], and we got a good bounce and… score.”

It may have been short, but it was a wild overtime period. Crosby nearly scored 30 seconds in, and David Steckel missed an open net moments later at the other end.

Milan Jurcina tripped Malkin to prevent a breakaway at 1:29, and the Penguins star ended up getting credit for the game-winner with just one second left on the penalty.

“I just say [to the players], ‘We’ll regroup tomorrow, and we’ve been in this position before,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It is a tough hill to climb, but you’ve just got to think of it as one game.”

Less than five 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 Swede 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 Pittsburgh’s Sidney 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 Saturday’s contest, with great results. Backstrom was the best skater on the ice, and Ovechkin’s three points moved him past Crosby for the playoff scoring lead.

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 final period. Ruslan Fedotenko scored 51 seconds in after a nifty backhanded, between-the-legs drop pass from Malkin. Then former Capitals player Matt Cooke put the Penguins in front at 6:27.

“They had the most comeback wins in the NHL this year, so we knew they were going to be come out and be very aggressive, and they did,” Boudreau said. “Fedotenko’s goal gave them life, and we were on our heels a bit.”

Fifty-nine seconds after Staal put Pittsburgh up 1-0 in the second, Ovechkin responded. He brought the puck into zone and stopped near the left point. After a quick survey, the left wing took a couple of strides and ripped a shot into the top right corner.

Following 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 Game 5.

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 it was Orpik who was trying to defend the 2008 MVP on the goal but ended up screening his goalie instead.

After the shot went in, Ovechkin and Orpik again came face-to-face, and this time No. 8 had a couple of words for the defenseman as the red-clad crowd rejoiced. But it was Orpik and the Penguins who left the District late Saturday night one win from the Eastern Conference finals.

“If we show up on Monday and put out an effort like that with the urgency and intensity that we had tonight, we’ll have the results that we want,” Pothier said.

Much was written and said before this series about the Caps’ sordid playoff history against the Penguins. Three times in the past, Pittsburgh has erased a two-game lead in a series to prevail.

Two of Pittsburgh’s three wins in this series have come in overtime, and both goals have bounced in off Washington players.

“Maybe,” Crosby said when asked if the hockey gods were favoring his club. “But you’ve got to work hard to get those bounces. … We created a lot of good opportunities, and sometimes they haven’t gone in, but they’ve found a way to even out.”

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