- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If a four-goal lead wasn’t enough the last time Pittsburgh came to town, then an early two-goal advantage last night probably wasn’t going to be either.

After spotting the Washington Capitals two goals in the first 10 minutes, the prodigious Penguins power play took control and Pittsburgh clinched a playoff berth with a 4-3 win at sold-out Verizon Center.

The Penguins entered the game fifth in the NHL with the man advantage, scoring exactly 20 percent of the time. They converted each of their first three opportunities, and scored seconds after the fourth expired.

“Once we started taking penalties then I was starting to think, ‘Oh boy. Here we go.’ ” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. “We just need to be a little smarter.”

Alexander Semin scored his 38th goal of the season with a nifty backhand move after Alex Ovechkin spotted him alone in the front of the net to put Washington ahead. When Boyd Gordon put a rebound past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with 10:42 left in the first period, the game appeared to be heading in the same direction as the last time these teams met in the District when the Caps raced to a 4-0 lead.

Michel Ouellet cut the Caps’ lead in half when he put home a rebound less than three minutes later, but the Caps had a great chance to push the lead back to two.

Jarkko Ruutu was assessed a four-minute high-sticking penalty after he clipped Semin near the Caps bench, chipping one of his teeth.

Caps center Kris Beech couldn’t stuff home a shot from the left side of the crease and the Penguins — who have the worst road penalty killing unit in the league — escaped.

“That was big for them to kill that off,” Caps captain Chris Clark said. “That’s a big momentum shift. If we get a goal early and still have the power play — that would have been a great scenario. But that is big momentum shift for sure.”

After that the Caps kept taking penalties and the Penguins made them pay. Beech went to the penalty box with 1.8 seconds left in the first period, and 70 seconds into the second Ryan Whitney took a pass from Sidney Crosby and one-timed it off Kolzig and into the net.

Crosby scored his 35th of the season on a wild sequence five minutes later. Penguins forward Gary Roberts was jostling with Shaone Morrison and fell onto Kolzig, who took a pair of swings at Roberts and lost his stick during the scrum.

The Caps failed to get the puck out of their zone and eventually Crosby stuffed home his own rebound through a stick-less Kolzig.

“We were trying to help, it is so hard when you are already a man down and all of a sudden the puck is going all over and you’re trying to sort it out,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said.

Whitney scored again in the same fashion with 4:08 left in the period — a backdoor cut to the right of Kolzig and a one-timed pass from Ryan Malone. He was open because Donald Brashear had left the penalty box and was squaring off with Penguins tough guy Georges Laraque near the blue line.

Washington failed to muster much in the first 18 minutes of the third period, but the Caps did cut the lead to one with 32 seconds left. They had several chances after Kolzig went to the bench with 1:58 left, and Milan Jurcina finally beat Fleury with a wrist shot for his fourth goal.

There would be no last-second equalizer and the Caps have now lost four straight and 18 of their last 21 games. The Penguins also completed a season sweep of the Caps for the first time in the 33-year history of the series.

Crosby now has five goals and 14 points in eight games against Ovechkin and the Caps. Ovechkin has three goals and nine points in those games, but more importantly, his team is 1-7.

“We can’t copy Pittsburgh. We have to play our system,” Ovechkin said. “We’ll wait for next year and we’ll see what happen next year. This year we take more experience and I think next year will be different.”

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