By Ron Cook
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009 11:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- For the simple reason that Sidney Crosby is inspired out of his mind and playing the best hockey of his spectacular career, it's still easy to like the Penguins' chances of climbing out of the 0-2 hole they find themselves in this morning against the Washington Capitals.
It would be a lot easier, of course, if Evgeni Malkin actually, you know, did something to help the cause, but I'm simply not willing to write off the Penguins just yet because of the way Crosby is going.
He has been fabulous in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
He was fabulous last night in the Penguins' 4-3 loss at Verizon Center, scoring all three goals to take over the NHL postseason lead with eight.
Wouldn't you know this Ovechkin fellow of the Capitals -- the great Alex Ovechkin -- would end up matching Crosby goal for goal by getting his team's two goals in the third period to complete a marvelous hat trick?
It was no surprise that Crosby did all he could to carry the Penguins. The Capitals are the opponents, right? They get Crosby's juices going almost as much as the hated Philadelphia Flyers, whom Crosby helped take out in the first round.
There are a couple of reasons for that. One, Crosby takes very seriously his personal competition with Ovechkin -- just as Ovechkin does -- to be the greatest player in the world. And two, there were the inane comments earlier this season from Capitals winger Alexander Semin, who said, "What's so special about [Crosby]? I don't see anything special there ¿ "
You think Crosby is amped for this series?
You have no idea.
The Carolina Hurricanes barely had finished off the New Jersey Devils by scoring two goals in the final 1:20 of Game 7 of their series to determine the second-round matchups when Crosby started texting teammates, "Good ¿ We get the Capitals."
There's no reason to think he still doesn't feel that way despite the two tough losses.
"I'm disappointed we lost, but we've got to move on," he said. "It's nice scoring goals, but I'd rather win."
It's a good thing Crosby is playing lights out because Ovechkin has matched his terrific play -- and maybe then some. Ovechkin broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal when Malkin was off for a silly tripping penalty, then built the lead to 4-2 moments later by beating goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot after putting a sweet move on defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Crosby's power-play goal with 30.4 seconds left gave the Penguins a chance, but they couldn't get the tying goal.
"They apparently heard the hype and are living up to it," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Crosby and Ovechkin.
Added Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, "It's great for our sport. That's why they are who they are. Not too many people can do what they did tonight."
The Capitals are feeling pretty good about themselves. As they should. They're up 2-1 and their star also is inspired out of his mind and playing the best hockey of his spectacular career.
But the series switches to Mellon Arena for Games 3 and 4.
If Ovechkin keeps this up, the Capitals will win.
For their sake, that had better happen because I'm fairly confident Crosby isn't going to quit now.
"A guy can't do more than he's doing," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "When he's playing like that, the other guys usually follow his lead. We need more playing like him."
You can say that again, brother.
As much as Ovechkin has hurt the Penguins -- like Crosby, he had a goal in the Capitals' 3-2 win in Game 1 -- the Penguins' other alleged stars have hurt the team just as much. Again, it was a long list of players who failed to score: Malkin (no goals in five games), Chris Kunitz, Petr Sykora, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke (no goals in these playoffs) and Bill Guerin (no goals in six games).
Malkin's invisibility has been especially damaging.
Was it just me or was the only time he was noticeable again last night was when he tripped the Capitals' David Steckel to set up Ovechkin's huge power-play goal?
It's sad, really.
Crosby and Ovechkin show up on the biggest of hockey stages, just as you would expect world-class talents to do. And Malkin disappears.
That's incredibly sad.
"The pressure is on us to go home and do it," Kunitz said. "We know what they" -- read: Ovechkin -- "are going to bring. We have to bring our game and elevate it."
Crosby will, for sure.
If Malkin and the others do, it's still not too late for the Penguins to win this series.