Both Teams Get What They Deserve

By Mike Wise
Thursday, May 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH Alex, your goalie, Simeon Varlamov, he was great, no?

"I don't want to talk about Varlamov. Sorry."


"I don't want to talk about referee too."


"I don't want to talk about it."

Swine flu?

"I don't want to talk about it."

All right, Alex Ovechkin wasn't asked about a possible pandemic, probably because one was essentially breaking out among the Capitals in Game 3, a one-sided encounter Washington inoculated itself from truly taking part in.

This old, drafty house, built in 1961, made famous by Mario Lemieux, rented by Jaromir Jagr and refurbished nicely by Sidney Crosby, exploded with sound just after 10 p.m. Shaped like and still called the Igloo, naming rights notwithstanding, it roiled with noise made by these howling people waving white, terry-cloth towels, all of whom deserved the bounce-back victory given to them by their team.

Pittsburgh deserved to win Game 3 at least 19 times more than the Capitals.

When the other guys outshoot Washington 42-23 and make sensational Simeon go up, down, in, out and back again -- until the Caps' kid goalie conducted an aerobics class in the crease -- something had to get through. Outhit, outhustled and completely outplayed, the Caps couldn't have justified going up 3-0 in this increasingly entertaining Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Persevereburgh 3, Capitulators 2.

Karma in playoff hockey would not exist if the Penguins lost Game 3. Desperate as they've been since they were eliminated in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals by the Detroit Red Wings a year ago, they responded in overtime with what was most likely a series-saving win on their home ice.

As Caps defenseman Mike Green said, "They had their foot on the pedal the whole second half of the game and they deserved to win."

Crosby was surreal, placing pucks on the nubs of his teammates' sticks so often they must have felt sick about being unable to cash in on so many glorious scoring opportunities. He took a monster hit from Milan Jurcina, one of the few times the Capitals seemed interested in contact that didn't result in a penalty and 45 power plays for the Penguins.

It's hard to blame Ovechkin for not wanting to talk about the loss, especially after the way some of his teammates played.

With less than two minutes left in regulation, I was thinking how Rosetta Stone never sent me my "Russian For Dummies" CDs. Which is why I couldn't ask Alexander Semin, who claims he speaks nyet English, why he signed a non-aggression pact with Evgeni Malkin before the this series began.

That epic Finnish-Soviet Winter War (1939-40), the one Sergei Fedorov's grandfather fought in?

Yeah, well, based on their lethargic play in the series almost three games in, the invasion would have easily taken Semin and Malkin eight years.

As time ticked down in the third period, Semin, the leading NHL scorer in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, had not yet beaten Penguins goalie Marc-André Fleury or even assisted on a Capitals goal.

And Malkin, the wondrous talent all the puckheads say is actually more valuable to Pittsburgh than Crosby, was a ghost, a nonfactor in two losses in Washington.

But almost on cue, the secondary stars emerged.

Malkin finally rewarded the Igloo crazies with the rarest of slap shots -- a puck that actually beat Varlamov, a goal that was supposed to send the Penguins on to victory in regulation.

Not wanting to be left out, the Caps' left wing, the lone name player to do squat thus far, got in close on a power play in the final two minutes and put the puck on goal, a shot rebounded for a score by Nicklas Backstrom.

Alexander the Enigma had just helped force overtime. He and Backstrom, who finally got going himself in this series, made the Penguins quake in their skates for a moment.

But the barrage in front of Varlamov continued, Pittsburgh just poured it on with adrenaline and shots on goal -- until Kris Letang sent the masses home euphoric. That first goal Ovechkin scored 83 seconds in? All for naught.

"We just didn't play our game tonight," Ovechkin said. "I think we have lucky goal when we score first goal, it was bad bounce, and after that we still have great chance to score goal but after this we just stopped playing.

"I don't know what's happening, but we can't play like that, especially that way against Pittsburgh," he added. "It was lucky we tied the game and in overtime and they score goal. It's nothing right now. We lost game and I don't want to talk about it."

After the Capitals watch the replay of this defensive eyesore, who can blame him?

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