- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Kris Letang left Game 2 of this series with an injury. Not only did he play in Game 3, but he also ended it.

Letang’s goal with 8:37 left in overtime gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory Wednesday night and cut the Washington Capitals’ lead in this Eastern Conference seminfinal series to 2-1 at sold-out Mellon Arena.

“They played great - they were going on all cylinders and we were watching them skate,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said after his team was outshot 34-15 after an even first period. “As far as the penalties go, I hope I never hear them complaining about penalties again. I think we might have deserved the [seven] penalties, but they sure as hell deserved more than the [two] that they got.”

It was a valiant effort from rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov, who made 39 saves, but he couldn’t get Letang’s shot after it deflected off defenseman Shaone Morrisonn in front. Sidney Crosby won a faceoff to the right of Varalmov back to Mark Eaton, who sent a pass to Letang at the top of the zone.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Morrisonn said. “It hit me either in the stick or leg. It happened quick.”

Evgeni Malkin ended his goal-scoring slump with a power-play goal late in the third period to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. He took a drop pass from Crosby, cut to the middle past Caps penalty killer Brooks Laich and snapped a shot just under the crossbar with Bill Guerin in front.

The goal was Malkin’s first in six games, and he punctuated it with an Alex Ovechkin-esque leap into the glass near the Washington bench. After earning much criticism for his play in the first two games of this series, Malkin was a monster in Game 3 with nine shots on net in nearly 30 minutes of ice time.

“In terms of [Malkin’s] play tonight, I’m pretty sure it speaks for itself,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was at a different level, another level. He was dominant with the puck.”

With time running out, Pascal Dupuis was sent to the penalty box for setting a pick at the offensive blue line - a maneuver that was hotly contested by both sides during the time off between Games 2 and 3 - and the Caps’ power play took advantage to force overtime.

Nicklas Backstrom scored his goal of this postseason with 1:50 left. The puck came to him along the goal line to the left of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Backstrom shot the puck off Fleury and into the net to set off a celebration behind the net and silence a standing room only crowd.

It was only the third time in franchise history the Caps have sent a playoff game into overtime with a goal in the final two minutes of regulation.

Before that, only the continuation of Varlamov’s rise to stardom kept the Caps in this game. He entered the night with a league-best 1.51 goals-against average in this postseason, and he did not buckle despite an onslaught of pressure and bodies strewn in front of him.

“He was outstanding,” Boudreau said. “When you get a goaltending effort like that, you have to win because they don’t come around all that often.”

A wacky bounce off the boards behind the Pittsburgh net led to a goal by Ovechkin on the first shot of the game. Mike Green sent the puck into the Penguins’ zone from along the right wall, and the puck shot past a stunned Fleury and into the slot.

Fleury, who lost his stick as the puck went past him, tried to dive for Ovechkin’s shot, but the Caps’ Hart Trophy finalist put his team in front 1-0 just 83 seconds into the contest.

Ovechkin’s goal was his eighth of the postseason, tying him with Crosby for the most in the league. It was also Ovechkin’s fifth of this series.

The Penguins received a fortunate bounce of their own to level the score at 1-1 in a one-sided second period. Caps defenseman Tom Poti fell down near the offensive blue line, and a two-on-one for Pittsburgh ensued.

Ruslan Fedotenko tried to send a pass to Max Talbot, but Milan Jurcina blocked it. The puck came right back to Fedotenko, and he put it in before Varlamov could recover.

“I told them after the second period that we were playing not to lose rather than to win,” Boudreau said. “That’s just what it looked like.”



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