By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009
If the Pittsburgh Penguins need any solace after yesterday's 3-2 series-opening loss to the Washington Capitals, they could use their opponents as a guide.
Just as the Washington Capitals did in the opening game of their first-round meeting with the New York Rangers, the Penguins took an early lead and conspicuously outshot their opponents, only to lose by one goal on a third-period game-winner their goalie thought he could have saved. Just as the Capitals were in that game, the Penguins were foiled by a tremendous individual effort from an opposing goalie. And just as the Capitals did last month, the Penguins reacted coolly to their Game 1 defeat, with several players saying a similar effort will likely pay off as this series progresses.
"I'm sure if we keep getting 40 shots a game," Maxime Talbot said, "we'll like the result."
The Penguins actually finished with 36 shots, one more than the Capitals put up in their Game 1 loss to the Rangers. They had six shots before the Capitals had any, took a 1-0 lead on a goal from star center Sidney Crosby, controlled the play for at least the first 10 minutes and equaled the Capitals' production at even strength, all factors they pointed to after the game while justifying their still-healthy confidence.
"We have to keep focusing on the way that we played, and do it for 60 minutes," goalie Marc-André Fleury said. "We played well, I think, and we had some chances. Forget about the loss and start again tomorrow."
Fleury was commonly seen as an advantage in this series for Pittsburgh, the top overall draft pick in 2003 who excelled in the Penguins' first-round victory over the Flyers and helped lead his team to the Stanley Cup finals a year ago. He was oddly unreliable in four regular season games against the Capitals, with a .862 save percentage, and yesterday yielded three goals on just 26 shots.
"If you watched the last series, I don't think anyone has any concerns," defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Fleury. "I mean, he was awesome for us in the Philly series. Last year in the playoffs he was awesome. I think everyone's got a lot of confidence in him. He plays well, and he gives everybody else in front of him confidence. The goals they scored today, he didn't really have much of a chance on."
Indeed, the first Washington goal came on a deflection that landed on David Steckel's stick, and the second from an unmarked Alex Ovechkin. The goal Fleury regretted was the game-winner from Tomas Fleischmann. "I wish I could have made that. That's a key save to make in a game to try to keep your team going," he said. "So I'm mad about that one, but it went in."
And while Fleury couldn't be faulted for this loss, his counterpart in the Capitals' net was the talk in both dressing rooms. Simeon Varlamov's stunning save on Crosby's shot continued the rookie's strong postseason debut, and at least raised the question as to whether the Penguins truly enjoy an advantage in net.
"That's for you guys to speculate and write about," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "Us, we just talk about our game plan. We love our goalie, and that's all we can say about that."
"Fleury's got the experience," Talbot added. "We have trust in him. He's been tremendous all season and for the last three seasons. We'll keep on putting some shots on [Varlamov's] net and I'm sure Fleury's going to keep on stopping the puck."
Crosby declined to rank Varlamov's stop as one of the best he's seen, and, like his teammates, said the visitors had created enough chances to have stolen Game 1.
"Obviously the goalie made some big saves, but we need to execute," Crosby said. "In the playoffs, you get some good opportunities like that, you have to take advantage of them. We didn't do that. We missed some chances."