- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

When it’s two-on-one, and the two are among the best players in the game, there isn’t much to do except what Tom Poti did. The Washington Capitals defenseman sprawled to deflect a pass from Evgeni Malkin to his fellow Pittsburgh Penguins star, Sidney Crosby.

“It’s Malkin,” Poti said. “You can’t give him too much time and space.”

Poti did his job, although not quite enough of it. The puck glanced off his stick and past Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov, a power-play goal that gave the Penguins a 4-3 overtime win Saturday, and a 3-2 series lead.

The play silenced a loud and boisterous Verizon Center crowd fully aware of the implications if their Caps lost a third straight game to the Penguins.

“A lucky bounce, an unfortunate bounce,” Poti said. “It’s tough because if you give [Malkin] too much space, he’ll find the guy who can score the goal. I don’t think I’d do anything different.”

Neither would Varlamov, even if he could. He never had a chance on a play reminiscent of the Game 3 loss, also in overtime, in which the winning Pittsburgh goal deflected off teammate Shaone Morrisonn.

“It’s always hard when you play in overtime and you allow a silly goal like this,” Varlamov said through an interpreter. “Twice now. Because in the first overtime game, it was a silly deflection. But as they say, the winners make their own luck.”

Said defenseman Brian Pothier: “It seemed like every mistake we made, they capitalized on. They were very opportunistic.”

Varlamov’s education continues. He started out hot in the playoffs but now has been on the wrong end of nine Pittsburgh goals in the last two games. But Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior won’t place any blame on Varlamov, who had 38 saves.

“It’s the bounces of that position,” Prior said. “Sometimes you make a save and you didn’t see the puck, or it gets halfway through and it gets hung up on your pads. He definitely played a good game. We don’t look at goals-against. He gave us the same thing I ask for every night. He gave us a chance to win.”

Now the Caps find themselves in a precarious position, hitting the road to try to win in a place where they did not play well in Games 3 and 4, or face elimination after taking a 2-0 lead in the series.

“It’s not over until they win four games, so that’s the mindset we’re gonna go in with Monday night,” center David Steckel said.

“It’s not over yet,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist and set a team record by scoring at least one point in his eighth straight playoff game. “It’s the same situation as last series.”

One of the Penguins’ heroes played for Capitals a year ago. Forward Matt Cooke put a rebound past Varlamov with 13:33 remaining to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead before Alex Ovechkin’s second goal with 4:08 left sent the game into overtime. It was Cooke’s first goal of the playoffs.

With that goal, Cooke made more of an impression, albeit a negative one, on the Capitals than he did last year when he played for them. He came to Washington in a trade-deadline deal with Vancouver for Matt Pettinger.

Cooke played in 17 games for the Caps, accounting for three goals, four assists and 21 penalty minutes. He signed a free agent contract with Pittsburgh on July 6, announcing that his purpose was to “create some energy.” In describing Cooke as “abrasive,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma added, “But he does have the ability in the offensive zone and around the net to make a play.”

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