- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

The question was posed to coach Bruce Boudreau early in his postgame news conference Saturday.

How did the Washington Capitals manage to render the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play so ineffective?

Boudreau, as he (and every other coach) usually does in the postseason, played coy.

“[Assistant coach Dean Evason] runs the penalty kill. He did a great job, and he does a great job,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know what the key was, and quite frankly, if I knew what it was, I’m not saying it.”

That might pass for typical playoff gamesmanship, but it wasn’t difficult to see how the Caps shut down Pittsburgh’s power play in their 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday. It was just another scrappy effort from a penalty-killing unit that, after allowing two power-play goals to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of that series, has been virtually spotless in the playoffs.

The Caps killed all five of Pittsburgh’s power-play opportunities, bringing their playoff total to 30-for-32 since the first game of the playoffs. On Saturday, they were rarely threatened by the Penguins’ potent unit, limiting Pittsburgh to six shots on the power play.

It was a simple formula: Forwards David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon consistently pressured the Penguins’ defensemen, tipping and deflecting pucks out of the shooting lanes. Goaltender Simeon Varlamov had few problems with the shots that did get to the net, and there were even fewer rebound opportunities for the Penguins, thanks to a group of defensemen that had little trouble moving Pittsburgh forwards away from the net.

Sidney Crosby didn’t have a shot on the power play, and Evgeni Malkin had just one.

“They’re very good, and if you can pressure them, and when you get them on the run, try and keep your sticks in the lane and make them make tough passes,” Laich said. “They go to the net very well. I think our ‘D’ did a great job of blocking their forwards out. When their ‘D’ would get a shot through, our ‘D’ would block them out and clear pucks away. They’re going to get one chance here or there, but if we can limit their second and third opportunities, we’ll be successful.”

The Caps’ penalty killers were tested right to the end, burning two Penguins power plays in the game’s final 15:31, after Washington had taken a 3-2 lead. The Caps’ first penalty in the third period, which came at 4:29 when Sergei Fedorov was called for holding, stuck out to Boudreau as the moment when the Caps took control for good.

“It was a really important kill,” he said. “Guys were uplifted because they were a little worried on the bench. You give fresh ice to some tremendous hockey players.”

With the weapons Pittsburgh has on offense, no one is expecting the Penguins to go the whole series without a power-play goal. Crosby, at least in Game 1, wasn’t worried about it.

“I think if you look at the guys on our power play, we have no reason but to be confident,” Crosby said. “As far as what we have to do, I don’t think, consistently, it was the same thing. There were some times when we had chances but didn’t put it in. There were other times where we didn’t quite battle enough to settle the puck down and relieve the pressure a bit. We’ll go over it and make sure we fix those things.”

To do that, though, they’ll have to deal with a Caps penalty kill that seems to have a good handle on how to get its job done right now.

“I think the story was, at the end of the day, their power play got it and ours didn’t,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “And that was the difference.”

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