Caps force Game 7

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PITTSBURGH | David Steckel has been with Bruce Boudreau dating back to their days before joining this franchise, so the Washington Capitals’ coach probably has more faith in his big center than most.

Steckel was a key contributor for Boudreau when he won a Calder Cup three years ago, and he is proving to be quite a valuable asset in their quest for the Stanley Cup this postseason.

He won an offensive zone faceoff and then deflected a shot from Brooks Laich 6:22 into overtime as the Caps defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in Game 6 at sold-out Mellon Arena.

“It was a great battle off the draw,” Steckel said. “We talked about it before we went out there about getting pucks to the net, and [Laich] did just that, and I was in the right place at the right time.

“That was the biggest goal of my career that I’ve scored, so I didn’t know what to do. I just started jumping around.”

Washington had lost seven straight overtime games dating back to 2001, including two in this series. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had won all five overtime contests the Penguins have played in with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

The Caps are now 6-1 in elimination games with Boudreau as coach, including four wins this season. This was yet another epic chapter in a memorable series. Game 7 will be Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

“We might not win [the series], but we’re going to go down fighting,” Boudreau said. “The message [before overtime] was, ‘It is our turn. The law of averages - it is our turn.’ ”

Sidney Crosby leveled the score at 4-4 with 4:18 remaining in regulation to cap a wild final period. Crosby knocked down Brooks Orpik’s shot from the left point in front of rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov and then pushed a backhanded attempt across the goal line for his 10th of the postseason, tying him with Alex Ovechkin for the most in the league.

For the fourth straight game, the Penguins struck first in the third period. Nine seconds after Steckel went to the penalty box for slashing, Kris Letang scored a power-play goal after Alex Goligoski’s shot from the right point went high and kicked out to the left circle.

But Washington came right back with a pair of markers 29 seconds apart to retake the lead. Alexander Semin initially was credited with his first goal of the series at 5:38 - 15 seconds after Orpik, his series-long nemesis, went to the box for tripping him. However, the score later was given to Laich, who was providing a screen in front of the net and had the puck deflect off one of his knees.

Viktor Kozlov added his second of the game at 6:07 as the Caps also took advantage of the lively boards. Nicklas Backstrom’s shot missed the net, but the puck came out to Kozlov on the other side, and Fleury was unable to get back into position in time.

“We’ve got a great group of guys who never give up,” said Ovechkin, who had three assists to set the franchise record for points in a postseason with 20. “It doesn’t matter who scores - me, [Kozlov], [Steckel] scores in overtime - it doesn’t matter. It is important that we win the game and we get to go back to our fans.”

The Caps did not look like a desperate team in the opening period. Pittsburgh outshot Washington 18-5 in the opening 20 minutes, and the Penguins collected the lone goal. Bill Guerin took a pass from Crosby and snapped a shot past Varlamov at 5:55. Crosby and Guerin broke in on a two-on-one after Chris Kunitz was able to chip the puck past a pinching Milan Jurcina.

Washington regrouped after the first intermission and forged a lead before a late Pittsburgh goal knotted the score at 2-2. Kozlov got the Caps on the board when he snapped a shot into the top right corner at 6:27.

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