- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

With playoff-type weather outside in the nation’s capital and a postseason atmosphere inside Verizon Center, the Capitals equaled the franchise record for points in a season in a wild 4-3 shootout win over the Penguins.

Trailing the Penguins 2-1 after two periods, the Caps came out and scored two goals less than two minutes apart, with Alexander Semin’s shorthanded tally turning the tide just over five minutes gone into the frame. Eric Fehr then put Washington ahead for good by tipping a Mike Green shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for the lead with 7:32 gone in the third. Jordan Staal forced the extra session with a rifle shot with 3:04 to play, and despite falling behind 2-0 in the shootout, Alex Ovechkin, Semin and Mike Knuble scored to deliver the 108th point of the season for Washington.

With the win, Washington also closes in on the franchise’s first Eastern Conference regular-season crown, eliminating its rival from the race and now leaving just New Jersey with a chance to catch the Caps for the first seed in the conference. The Caps could secure the title tomorrow night in Raleigh when they face the Hurricanes with a win and a New Jersey loss to the Rangers.

As for the team’s two superstars in their first meeting since Canada eliminated Russia in the Olympic quarterfinals last month, both Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby contributed an assist for their squads and a goal apiece in the shootout. Although Crosby ended up with gold in Vancouver, at the NHL level, Ovechkin’s Caps now have won all three regular-season meetings with the Pens with one game left between the clubs in Pittsburgh next month.

Jose Theodore also continued his brilliant play as of late, stopping 39 of 42 Penguins shots — many of the spectacular variety. Playing in back-to-back contests, the Caps’ netminder is making a strong case to be the man in the crease once the playoffs begin in three weeks.

For the Penguins, who are battling for the Atlantic Division title with the Devils, it was a tough loss of a gutsy effort for a team missing Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, but now Pittsburgh is 2-3-3 in its last eight contests.

Pittsburgh narrowly got on the board first two minutes deep into the contest, when Ruslan Fedotenko nearly popped the puck past Theodore, then got a power-play when Tom Poti accidentally cleared the puck over the glass 2:09 in.

Crosby got the best chance with the extra attacker, but couldn’t beat Theodore.

After the teams traded exchanges, Pittsburgh got their second power-play of the night when Tomas Fleischmann was called for tripping a charging Fedotenko in front of the Washington net with 5:57 to play in the first period.

However, Washington’s penalty-killers were solid, with Crosby getting the best chance with a shot along the goal line.

Ovechkin had the first good chance for the Capitals when he took a Tom Poti shot and one-timed the puck but just missed it past the far post with his shot.

But even though the Capitals were outshot 17-9 after 20 minutes, the two teams headed to the locker room scoreless.

Washington got on the board just 1:09 into the second, as the Caps put on some early pressure. A shot by Nicklas Backstrom was stopped by Penguins netminder Fleury, but popped up in the air. On its way down, Knuble put the puck in the crease and tiped it just over the goal line to put the Caps on top.

However, that was short-lived advantage, as Brooks Orpik’s shot from the blue line was redirected by Maxime Talbot past Theodore with 2:21 gone — just 1:12 after the Knuble tally.

Washington got their first power-play of the night 6:01 into the second, as Ovechkin was tripped up by Kris Letang to give the Caps a chance with the extra man.

Backstrom had a glorious chance to convert on a rebound of an Semin shot, but he missed the net with the shot and kept the score knotted at one.

Eric Fehr gad a great chance with 8:50 gone, but Fleury made a spectacular save with his blocker to corral the puck.

Pittsburgh then got another chance with the extra-man as Semin struck Michael Rupp with a high stick with 9:48 left in the period, but killed the penalty.

However, the Pens got another chance with the extra man when Fleischmann was called for tripping Talbot, and this time, Washington paid the price.

Then, with 5:21 left in the period, Crosby took the puck towards the net, lost it and then kicked it to his stick, where he delivered a backhand to Bill Guerin who gave Pittsburgh its first lead of the night.

John Carlson got a chance to tie the game when he took a Semin feed and then hit the post, and the game was 2-1 after 40 minutes.

Pittsburgh got another chance with the extra-man 4:11 into the third, when Jeff Schultz was called for clutching Crosby as he drove to the net. However, it was Washington that got the goal as Semin intercepted a Crosby pass in the Washington zone, then took the puck along the wall before breaking towards the middle and firing a shot over Fleury’s shoulder to square the game with 5:36 gone in the period.

Then, just 1:56 later, Eric Fehr tipped a Mike Green shot past Fleury to put the Caps back in front and send the sellout crowd at Verizon Center into a frenzy.

Pittsburgh had a golden chance to tie the game with under four minutes to play, but Theodore recovered nicely on a rebound of a Guerin shot and robbed Jordan Staal’s backhand attempt. However, on the next shift, Staal placed a shot right in the top corner to square the game at 3 with just 3:04 left in regulation.

Both teams collected a point, and then headed into sudden-death overtime.

Ovechkin, who scored the overtime game-winner back on February 7th against the Pens, had a great chance in the second minute, but couldn’t quite get the shot on net while being taken down. He then narrowly set up the game-winner, but Fleury got a piece of his centering feed for Backstrom to keep play going.

Letang took the first shot for Pittsburgh, and used a deke to beat Theodore to put the Pens up in the shootout. Backstrom went to the backhand on Washington’s first chance, but couldn’t lift the puck and was stopped by Fleury. Crosby then scored on a deke to put Caps against elimination, but Ovechkin scored to keep Washington alive.

Bill Guerin had the chance to seal the win for the Pens, but Theodore stopped the drive. Semin then kept the shootout going, beating Fleury with the backhand.

Chris Kunitz was the Pens’ fourth shooter, but Theodore stood his ground, paving the winner for Knuble to deliver the game winner on the fourth shot.

Washington is back in action tomorrow night in Carolina, then return home Sunday for an afternoon game with Calgary — possibly with the Eastern Conference’s top seed sewn up.

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