- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

As it turns out, “better” is in the eye of the beholder as well as the scoreboard in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Asked Thursday whether he thought the Pittsburgh Penguins were the better team despite their 2-1 deficit to the Washington Capitals, captain Sidney Crosby responded in the affirmative.

“Yeah, I feel like we’ve out-chanced them over the three games,” Crosby said. “We’re still down 2-1, but the belief in what we need to do is there, and we see some good results.”

The Penguins have indeed out-chanced the Caps, as well as outshot them 115-83 through three games. In Wednesday night’s 3-2 overtime win, the Penguins fired wide 19 times and had an additional 15 shots blocked on the way to ringing up a 42-23 advantage in shots on goal.

Their 76-43 edge in shot attempts and long stretches of territorial dominance that accompanied all that blasting away in Game 3 have the Penguins feeling in control, if not in the lead, in the series, which resumes Friday night at Mellon Arena.

“We’re confident that if we play this way, we give ourselves a great chance to win,” Crosby said.

The Caps, though, are just as confident.

“I’d much rather be where I am right now than where they are,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Forward David Steckel said it was only a matter of time before the Penguins started capitalizing on their opportunities.

“They’ve played a full 60 minutes each game,” Steckel said. “At times we haven’t, and we haven’t matched their intensity. We’re not disappointed that we’re up; we’re just disappointed in how we’ve played.”

Keeping the Caps ahead in the series has been the brilliant play of rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov. If the Penguins can start cashing in on more of their chances, they finally might crack Varlamov, as well as even the series.

They had Varlamov seemingly down and out on a number of occasions in Game 3, but forwards Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz were among those who wasted golden opportunities by missing the net.

Winger Pascal Dupuis managed a shot on goal but somehow found Varlamov rather than a mostly open cage from close range. And then there was defenseman Kris Letang, who became a hero in overtime but not before repeatedly failing to convert in regulation.

“Lots of chances, maybe too many chances,” he said. “I should have scored more goals.”

The suspicion in the Penguins’ dressing room Thursday was that an offensive explosion might be attainable in Game 4 given more of the same effort.

“We’re playing very well offensively, especially [Wednesday night]. We were creating so many chances,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “We have a good chance if we’re gonna continue to play the same way.”

Coach Dan Bylsma cautioned against believing such an explosion is imminent.

“We can’t count on us breaking out,” he said. “We can’t count on it getting easier. It’s going to get more difficult. They’re going to be refocused and re-energized, and they’re going to come back at us with a renewed game plan and a renewed effort.

“We need to make sure we get right back to the offensive zone and get that many shots, that many chances at this goalie. We have to be real persistent in getting our opportunities and getting to the net.”

As for which team is better…

“We’ll know when the series is over,” Gonchar said.

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