- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

The first six games of this Eastern Conference semifinal series were an epic showdown between two great, young teams chock full of superior talent.

Too bad the same cannot be said for Game 7.

One of the most anticipated NHL games of this decade turned into a laugher, and the nightmare scenario for longtime fans of the Washington Capitals played out like it has so many times before. The Pittsburgh Penguins came to sold-out Verizon Center and dominated the Caps in a 6-2 victory to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

The No. 1 villain in this town, Sidney Crosby, got it started in the first period, and he added an exclamation point with a breakaway in the third. Alex Ovechkin had a goal for the Caps, but the lack of a celebration from a guy famous for exclamations of exuberance told the story because his team already was down five goals.

This is the seventh time in eight postseason meetings between the two rivals that Pittsburgh has ended Washington’s season. The two clubs hadn’t met since 2001, and with no players remaining from that era, this was going to be different for the Caps — especially because the team went 3-0-1 against the Penguins in the regular season and earned this home game by being the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, playoff hero Simeon Varlamov lasted less than 23 minutes, and the Caps’ quest for a Stanley Cup ended one round deeper into the postseason than last year. The Penguins are now four wins against either the Boston Bruins or Carolina Hurricanes from returning to the finals for the second straight season.

For the third time in this series, Crosby had the first goal of the contest. With the Penguins on the power play, Sergei Gonchar sent the puck toward the net off his back foot. It hit a Caps defender in front and then Crosby in the right skate just to the right of the goal, and he was able to guide it in before Varlamov could react.

It was Crosby’s seventh goal of the series and 11th of the postseason. Later he added No. 12 on a breakaway to break a tie with Ovechkin for the most in these playoffs.

Gonchar had missed the previous two games because of a knee-on-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin in Game 4, but he returned to practice Tuesday and was in the lineup Wednesday night.

Craig Adams made it a 2-0 contest eight seconds later. Brian Pothier tried to chip the puck out along the wall, but it was denied at the blue line, and the puck came to Adams in the right circle. He put it under Varlamovs left arm for his first goal of this postseason.

Crosby hit Bill Guerin with a perfect drop pass, and he extended the lead to three just 28 seconds into the middle period. Evgeni Malkin sent a pass to Kris Letang for a blast from the top of the right circle at 2:12, and the 21-year-old Varlamovs night was over.

Turning to Jose Theodore, who hadnt played since Game 1 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers, didn’t stop the onslaught. Jordan Staal jammed a shot from the top of the crease past Theodore at 11:37 — Pittsburghs fifth goal in a span of 19 minutes.

Ovechkin and Brooks Laich scored for the Caps with Crosbys breakaway sandwiched in between, but the final period, played in front of a slowly evaporating crowd, had little of the skill and intensity that made the first six games of this series so fantastic.

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