Pittsburgh Penguins Even Series With 5-3 Win Over Washington Capitals

The Capitals lose both Game 4 and their series lead as the Penguins hold serve at home with a 5-3 victory over Washington.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH, May 8 -- The Washington Capitals came here brimming with confidence, a hot goalie in net and a two-games-to-none lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals against their biggest postseason rival.

That's all gone now.

Simeon Varlamov had his first bad game of the playoffs, Alex Ovechkin mustered only two shots on goal and was involved in a controversial knee-on-knee hit, and the power play was anything but powerful in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday that sent the series back to Washington tied, 2-2.

"Alex is only human," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He can't be unbelievable every night. If you take the analogy of a baseball player, they don't hit home runs all the time. Alex is a great player; he just had one of those nights where he's not going to get three goals."

Ovechkin did not record a shot on goal after a first period in which he was involved in a controversial collision that knocked Penguins star defenseman Sergei Gonchar out of the game. The Penguins did not divulge the severity or nature of the injury, and it's unclear whether he'll be able to suit up for Game 5 on Saturday night at Verizon Center. It's also unclear if Ovechkin will face any disciplinary action from the NHL for the hit amid charges from at least one Penguins player that he's been trying to hurt opponents all series.

"I tried to hit him and he tried to move to his left, and I don't have time to realize what is going on and I hit [him with] my knee," Ovechkin said. "It was accident. I'm not the kind of guy who wants to injure a player like this, especially [because] I know Gonch. I tried to hit him with my shoulder and he moved left, but his legs were in the same spot."

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik told reporters: "That's three games in a row where he's out there trying to hurt guys. You just watch the way he hits. And he likes to target the Russian guys, for some reason."

Ovechkin and Varlamov weren't the only Capitals to struggle; they were just among the most noticeable ones.

Varlamov is perhaps the biggest reason the Capitals survived a seven-game first-round series with the New York Rangers and won the first two games against the Penguins. It could be argued that the 21-year-old was also the biggest reason the Capitals lost Game 4. One game after being his team's best player, the Russian rookie yielded five goals on 28 shots, including a soft goal on a shot by Ruslan Fedotenko from about 50 feet that went in and out of his glove and staked the Penguins to a 3-1 lead near the end of the first period.

"He struggled," Boudreau said. "He hasn't had a bad game. Arguably there were four soft goals out of the five. But he'll bounce back."

Despite his displeasure in Varlamov's performance, Boudreau indicated he plans to give Varlamov a chance to redeem himself, saying, "As far as I'm concerned, yes."

Washington's power play has also become a source of concern. The unit went 0 for 4 on Friday, managing one shot on goal, and is 3 for 13 in the series. One opportunity in particular haunted the Capitals afterward: With the man advantage at the start of the second period and a clean sheet of ice, they came up empty, hardly challenging Penguins goaltender Marc-André Fleury, who rebounded from a soft goal on the game's first shot to record 19 saves.

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