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Capitals drop Penguins, force Game 7 |

Capitals drop Penguins, force Game 7

| Tuesday, May 12, 2009 12:00 a.m

A third-line center scored the overtime goal that deflated them Monday night, but it’s a rookie goalie that Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi hopes doesn’t go breaking their heart.

David Steckel’s third goal of an epic playoff series at 6:22 of overtime lifted the Washington Capitals past the Penguins, 5-4, at Mellon Arena. This best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs series is even and will be decided Wednesday at Washington’s Verizon Center.

“It was just a shot from the point; I thought it was going wide,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (19 saves) said of Steckel’s from-the-slot deflection winner.

Steckel won a faceoff against Penguins center Max Talbot, whose stick snapped. The puck ended up on the stick of Capitals forward Brooks Laich, whose shot found its way through traffic.

“It was a great battle off the draw,” Steckel said. “We talked about it before going out there, to get pucks to the net. Brooks did just that, and I was in the right place at the right time.”

The Penguins are going to a less-than-desirable place at an undesired time for an elimination game after falling to 0-2 in these playoffs with a chance to wrap a series at home.

Claiming Game 7 will mean solving Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov.

“What can you say• Varlamov is unbelievable right now,” Scuderi said last night after he clanged a shot off the crossbar early in overtime. “I think he’s played well the entire series. It’s Game 7, so I hope we come with our best effort.

“I think we’ve played well the entire series. He’s due … we want to make sure he doesn’t steal an entire series from us.”

Varlamov, the Capitals’ backup entering these playoffs, has stopped 90.7 percent of shots faced in this series – hardly dominant by elite goaltending standards – but he has proven brilliant during key Penguins surges, especially early in games.

That trend held last night as he made 17 of his 38 saves in the first period, allowing only a goal to Penguins right wing Bill Guerin at 5:55.

Down just 1-0 entering the second period, the Capitals turned momentum. Forwards Viktor Kozlov’s first series goal at 6:27 and Tomas Fleischmann’s third of the playoffs at 14:42 staked Washington to a 2-1 lead.

The Penguins pulled even, 2-2, on defenseman Mark Eaton’s fourth playoff goal with 34 seconds remaining before the second intermission. It was a power-play score, one of two on five chances for the Penguins.

The second was scored by defenseman Kris Letang at 4:40 of the third period. However, the Penguins’ 3-2 lead vanished in a flash of capital force.

Washington forwards Alexander Semin, with his first goal of the series at 5:38, and Kozlov, with his second of the game at 6:07, pushed their club ahead, 4-3. Semin’s goal was scored on a power play with Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik in the penalty box for hooking at 5:23.

Though leading, the Capitals allowed the Penguins several scoring opportunities – and center and captain Sidney Crosby’s whack-a-mole goal from the crease with 4:18 remaining tied the score, 4-4.

The Penguins had already won two overtime games in the series, and coach Dan Bylsma was confident of a third victory, but …

“You’re talking about two really good teams; it’s not like we can stranglehold them,” he said of the Capitals, who are 6-1 in playoff elimination games dating to last postseason.

“They’re going to respond. They have good players.”

Each team has a couple of great ones. The Capitals’ stud wingers, Alex Ovechkin and Semin, combined for five points in Game 6 – matching the total by Penguins star centers Evgeni Malkin and Crosby.

Still, this series belongs to a Russian rookie that has his organization on the brink of a long-awaited playoff conquest. The Capitals have lost six of seven postseason series to the Penguins, including Game 7 twice.

“He plays with the composure of a 10-year veteran,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said of Varlamov, whose club left its bench boss “red in the face” after the series’ fifth one-goal game.

“We were two inches from finishing it off tonight,” Crosby said. “We believe if we have that same effort, things are going to go our way.”

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