Correction to This Article
In some editions, the column incorrectly said that the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke scored the winning goal against the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the teams' NHL playoff series. Evgeni Malkin scored the goal.

A Bitter Night for Youngest Capitals

Penguins' Sidney Crosby collides with Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov who made the save. Washington defender Brain Pothier rides Crosby's back.
Penguins' Sidney Crosby collides with Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov who made the save. Washington defender Brain Pothier rides Crosby's back. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, May 10, 2009

The same stunned, disbelieving expression washed across the face of each Cap who made his way into Washington's silent locker room. How could it happen again? Not once, but now twice, a game-losing overtime goal had deflected into their own net off one of their own sticks? And in the same series, to the Penguins, of all foes, the team that has sent them home in six of their seven previous bitter spring meetings over many years.

This time, Pittsburgh didn't even need to take a shot on goal to win. Instead, a pass by the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin deflected off the stick of diving defenseman Tom Poti and squeaked between the knees of Cap goalie Simeon Varlamov just 3 minutes 28 seconds into overtime.

"Just an unfortunate bounce," said a grim-jawed David Steckel, after the Caps' 4-3 defeat, their third straight loss to Pittsburgh, in Game 5 of this second-round playoff series. "Poti laid out for it just like he should. Tom's been our steadiest defenseman this year."

"Both of their overtime goals have been scored by our guys," said Coach Bruce Boudreau. "So it's an unlucky break."

To make the pain worse, in a way, the Caps finally played as they wanted to. "It was our best game of the series," said Boudreau. "They still had 42 shots. They are a very good team. They can skate. But we had the same energy and the same [scoring] chances that they did."

Then Boudreau paused, an image from overtime flashing into his mind -- the thought of Steckel, at point blank range, missing a half-open goal, wide to the right.

"If Steckel puts it in, in overtime, we're talking about all different things, all different questions," said Boudreau.

Then you're talking about when the Caps wrap this series up and how far they'll go toward a Stanley Cup. Instead, you're talking about whether there will be a Caps season after tomorrow night. The Pens controlled most of the two previous games in the Igloo. In a series that always figured to be close, can you lose twice in sudden death on shots you deflect into your own net? The Pens created those chances and, in that sense, earned their good fortune. But the self-inflicted method of torture haunts a team worse.

The most victimized of all the Caps, the 21-year-old Varlamov, played sensationally as the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the third period. "You could see that I did [play better]," said Varlamov through an interpreter. But he faded as he played back-to-back games for the first time in his NHL career.

Worse luck than that, however, Varlamov was blasted to the ice, holding his head, his mask knocked off, in a collision with Pens star Sidney Crosby just two minutes before the winning "goal" by Malkin.

"It is hard to lose a playoff game on a silly goal like this. The other overtime game was a deflection, too," Varlamov said. "I wasn't hurt [on the collision]. That's why I continued. It was a pass [by the Pens] to the far post. It changed directions. I didn't see it. It just went in.

"But, as they say, the winners make their own luck."

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