- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH

If ever there were a goal that symbolizes what has made David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley established NHL players, it came in overtime Monday night and extended the Washington Capitals’ season at least two more days and one more game.

Steckel won the faceoff - it’s what he does best.

Laich gained possession and, from his knees, pitched it forward to Bradley - they’re always causing havoc in the offensive zone.

Bradley fought through two defenders to get the puck back to Laich.



Laich fired a seemingly harmless shot from the top of the left circle.

Steckel, screening goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, deflected the shot for the winning goal 6:22 into overtime for a 5-4 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Reunited in the third period, the Caps’ third line continued to be a dominant trio, helping Washington force Game 7 on Wednesday.

The overtime tally was the kind of goal the Caps lacked when they saw their 2-0 series lead turn into a 3-2 deficit - getting traffic in front of the Penguins’ goal, winning a 50-50 battle along the wall and getting a fortunate bounce created by hard work.

“We have some chemistry for some reason, and it’s been working well,” said Laich, who was credited with the Caps’ third goal after Alexander Semin’s shot deflected in off one of his knees.

At the game’s outset, Steckel and Bradley were wings on a line centered by Boyd Gordon, and Laich was on a line with Semin and Sergei Fedorov.

But the Caps posted only 11 shots in the opening 40 minutes and trailed 4-3. The Caps needed a serious shot of energy to get back in the game - a group of players who would get pucks deep, cycle while holding possession and create some not-so-pretty chances.

“We were down, and we weren’t having any offense,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought if they could rekindle it, it could work out well. Sometimes, it works out.”

Worked out is an understatement. Steckel’s goal broke a seven-game overtime losing streak for the Caps. This group was 0-4 in overtime the past two postseasons before his winner.

The Caps had nine shots in the third period and improved drastically with puck possession.

“We’re basically the same type of player,” Steckel said of his linemates. “We keep things simple. … We’re going to get pucks to the net and be there to work hard.”

The wild celebration that silenced Mellon Arena maybe had an extra little intensity because of who scored the goal and who set it up. The stars realize how important Steckel, Laich and Bradley are to the Caps’ hopes.

“They’re working hard all the time,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “They always get on their defense and are forechecking a lot. We need it because it gives us other guys energy on the bench.”

Said Fedorov: “They forechecked very well, and they cycle the puck pretty good in the offensive zone. They’ve played for us like that all season long. I’m not surprised they got the game-winning goal. They deserved everything they got on the game-winning play.”

It was appropriate that on the night the third line was reunited, the Caps got scoring from sources that forced Boudreau to break up the group after two games.

Viktor Kozlov entered the game with no goals in the series. He scored two in Game 6.

Tomas Fleischmann had been demoted to the fourth line. He scored to give the Caps their first lead at 2-1.

And Semin was actually effective - he finished with two assists and showed a pulse.

“We believed we could do it,” Kozlov said. “Everybody helped each other on the ice and did their job. It’s not about me and scoring; it’s about the guys who got me chances - I had to shoot.”

Boudreau faces a no-brainer decision for Game 7. He must keep the Steckel-Laich-Bradley line together, start them, have the crowd go crazy when they’re announced, hope they can provide the same kind of spark and not wait too long to shorten his bench to just three lines to maximize his best players’ ice time. As for everybody who gets to watch - enjoy the spectacle of one of the league’s best postseason series.

“It’s just survival mode out there,” Laich said. “You’re flying by on your teeth and play so hard and want it so bad. Now they’re facing elimination, too, and we have to expect the same effort from them that we gave tonight.”

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