- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Pittsburgh Penguins showed Saturday night that standing pat can sometimes be more beneficial than juggling every line without the benefit of a full-squad practice.

Acknowledging the importance of Game 5, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau unveiled four new combinations up front in an effort to get several wingers on track offensively.

The Penguins, meanwhile, kept intact the lineup that got them back into this Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, a decision that paid off in their 4-3 overtime win that put them in control heading home.

On a night the Penguins’ top unit was held to one assist, the trio of Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy posted two goals and two assists.

“They’ve been probably our most consistent line all playoffs,” right wing Craig Adams said. “It’s great to see [Staal] get one, and he’s had lots of chances and deserved that one for sure and obviously [Cooke] as well.”

Said center Sidney Crosby: “That line did a great job [in the third]. You need guys to step up like that.”

At the beginning of the series, it was the Caps’ third line of Brooks Laich, David Steckel and Matt Bradley that was complementing Alex Ovechkin and slowing down some of Pittsburgh’s top guns.

But Boudreau was forced to mess with a good thing when Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann proved ineffective, so he elevated Laich and juggled other combinations.

The Caps haven’t won since.

Of Washington’s 15 goals in the series, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have 10.

Meanwhile, Milan Jurcina (one) has more goals than Semin, Kozlov and Fleischmann combined.

Not that Pittsburgh was getting much production from its third or fourth lines, but Dan Bylsma figured the Staal line was providing enough defense that he could afford to be patient.

Staal and Cooke hadn’t scored this postseason until Game 5, and the trio entered Saturday night with only seven points in 10 games.

Staal opened the scoring, and Cooke tied the score early in the third period.

“It’s always nice to chip in once in a while, especially for Sid and [Evgeni Malkin],” Staal said. “They can’t score every night but always seem to do a great job doing that.”

Cooke scored a greasy goal in front to break a drought that dated back to his Vancouver days.

“It’s only been 21 playoff games since I scored, so it’s nice to get that monkey off our back,” he said. “Anytime we can chip in offensively, it helps.”

Cooke was asked if there was a friendly wager between the seven Penguins players who had appeared in at least one game this postseason but remained scoreless.

“There might have been a side line between a few of the players in this room,” he said.

Staal, Cooke and Kennedy have been a combination since the regular season, allowing them to create a cohesiveness that makes them effective even if they’re not scoring goals. When the series shifts back to Pittsburgh on Monday, they’ll play a big defensive role against one of the Caps’ top two lines.

“Sometimes it’s good to play with the same guys and get some chemistry; sometimes you need to switch it up,” Adams said. “There’s no rhyme or reason for it sometime - you either stick with what’s working or tinker with other things.”

Bylsma has made only minor alterations to his forward lines, moving fourth-liner Max Talbot to the second line with Malkin and inserting Miroslav Satan for Petr Sykora.

The Caps’ combinations this series are too many to list. When they face elimination for the fourth time this postseason in Game 6, Boudreau might as well go back to what helped stake his team to a 2-0 advantage - Steckel centering Laich and Bradley. Pittsburgh sure isn’t going to change after it got the road win it needed.

“It’s obviously huge,” Staal said. “We needed a win in their building and no better time than now. We learned a lot from the last series, and hopefully we can finish the job at our own rink.”

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