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For Both Sides, Much Is at Stake
Despite Spotty Play, Capitals Can Push Penguins to Brink

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Washington Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier sat silent for a moment to ponder how much Game 3 could mean to this series. At first glance, his team is sitting pretty. They're up two games in their Eastern Conference semifinal with the Pittsburgh Penguins and riding a five-game winning streak heading into tonight's contest at Mellon Arena. But that, Pothier said, is the most dangerous assumption he or his teammates can make.

"I hope we're not going to be lulled into a false sense of security, because we haven't really played well," Pothier said. "We've had timely goals and great goaltending, but as a team I don't think we've played nearly as well as we can. I'm sure Pittsburgh's a little frustrated by that; they have been playing pretty well but they haven't been able to score. We cannot think for a second that we've been dominating the series."

Washington needs only to look back at its victory at Madison Square Garden on April 20 for Game 3 against the Rangers to see how much momentum hangs in the balance of a game that can create a daunting deficit or give the team that trails in the series new life. Key among the improvements that can help the Capitals avoid the Rangers' mistake is finding a way to limit Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby.

Through two games, Crosby has accounted for four of the Penguins' five goals, and three of his tallies have come while standing atop the Washington crease. Coach Bruce Boudreau said that without the Capitals taking penalties against Crosby every shift, it's likely the Penguins center will continue to position himself in front of or next to goaltender Simeon Varlamov.

"We've got to make sure that we eliminate him," Mike Green said. "[In Game 2] there was two times where pucks bounce off legs and in the blink of an eye he's got it on his stick. Definitely have to be more aware of it, but you live and you learn. It's just his presence around the net. If he's not able to have any room or you get more in his face, then maybe he won't have that opportunity to score."

Despite the possible absence of John Erskine for a second straight game tonight, the Capitals expect to have a full complement of seven healthy defensemen, including Tyler Sloan and Karl Alzner, who were called up on Monday to help corral Crosby and the Penguins' array of other forwards. Boudreau said he expected Erskine to travel to Pittsburgh, as well as fourth-line wing Eric Fehr, who played just 2 minutes 9 seconds in Game 2 after absorbing a crushing check by the Penguins' Ruslan Fedotenko.

"He'll be back soon," Boudreau said of Fehr. It's unclear if the Capitals would recall a forward or use Michael Nylander, a healthy scratch since Game 3 against the Rangers, in Fehr's absence.

"We're going to consider all the options at this point," Boudreau said. "Mike is a good player. We have faith in him if we put him in."

Brashear Staying Put

Russian newspaper Sport-Express reported Tuesday morning that suspended Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear would be flying to Russia to sign a contract in the KHL, but in a text message to a Washington Post reporter, Brashear said the report was false.

Brashear said a Russian team had contacted him because he acts as his own agent, but added: "I'm worried about getting on the ice again in the Stanley Cup playoffs and playing for my team. And then I would like to re-sign with the Capitals. That's my first choice of anything, but I'll worry about that at the end of the season." . . .

Pittsburgh wing Chris Kunitz will not be suspended by the NHL for his cross check on Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov late in the third period of Game 2. Varlamov was not injured during the play.

Staff writers Tarik El-Bashir and Mike Wise contributed to this report.

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