By Ron Cook
Sunday, May 10, 2009 12:12 AM
WASHINGTON -- Well, aren't you glad the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin played last night? Didn't that make the Penguins' 4-3 overtime win that much more fun? Isn't it better to beat him in his own house and put his team on the edge of playoff elimination than to do it with him serving a suspension and giving the Capitals some sort of lame excuse?
Absolutely, it's better.
"Definitely, it's better," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said in the immediate, joyous aftermath of teammate Evgeni Malkin's winning goal, just 3:28 into the extra session.
It was pretty clear all of the Penguins thought that way after this throbbing Game 5 win, their third victory in four nights in the series. It gave them a three games-to-two edge and the chance to turn out the lights on the Capitals' season in Game 6 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena.
Much work remains to be done, of course.
Much, much work.
"The fourth win is always the hardest to get," Penguins star Sidney Crosby always says.
But know this:
The Penguins will be especially thrilled if they can turn out the lights on Ovechkin tomorrow night.
You know, at the scene of the crime.
The Penguins were outraged that Ovechkin took out their top defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, with a wicked knee-on-knee hit early in Game 4 at Mellon Arena Friday night. Gonchar sat out last night and might be finished for the postseason. Who knows for sure the way all NHL clubs guard their injury secrets?
Orpik -- Gonchar's defensive partner -- was especially incensed, accusing Ovechkin of taking frequent runs at him, Gonchar and the other Penguins with the intent to injure. But he wasn't the least bit surprised that league officials, after reviewing tape of the hit on Gonchar, didn't fine Ovechkin, let alone suspend him for what the Penguins screamed was a blatant cheap shot.
"Did you see what Gonch's agent said about it?" Orpik asked. "That said it all."
Agent J.P. Barry told TSN of Canada yesterday, "We now have Exhibit A of the extreme double standard that exists in the NHL's approach to discipline -- It was an extremely negligent hit and if anyone else in the league does the same we all know they will face serious discipline."
I don't know about you, I'm not quite willing to buy that. Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, who is much less a bright light in the NHL's galaxy than Ovechkin, cross-checked Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov in the neck late in Game 2, an offense every bit as despicable as Ovechkin's hit on Gonchar. Kunitz was fined but not suspended, proving, in this series anyway, that justice isn't totally blind.
You might know, though, that didn't stop Orpik from giving Ovechkin the business last night during a scrum between the two at the end of the first period. They shared pushes, shoves, nasty words, everything but Happy Mother's Day wishes.
"I just tried to get in his head a little, maybe get him thinking a little," Orpik said. "Who knows? Maybe he feels bad. But I wanted to remind him of what he did. I told him he was lucky he was Alex Ovechkin. I told him he wouldn't be playing in this game if he was another player."
It's pretty safe to say the smack talk didn't knock Ovechkin off his game. Less than a minute after Penguins center Jordan Staal finally scored a goal for a 1-0 lead in the second period, Ovechkin answered with a goal of his own, a wicked wrist shot that beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. It gave Ovechkin the chance to exult in Orpik's face, one that he clearly enjoyed. Orpik was the closest Penguin to him when he took the shot.
The Great 8 -- as Ovechkin is known in the Washington area -- also scored a huge goal with 4:08 left in regulation, pulling the Capitals into a 3-3 tie, just about the time the Penguins were starting to think about their postgame celebration plans. It was his seventh goal of this series and 10th of the playoffs.
What a bummer it would have been for the Penguins if that Ovechkin goal had led to a Capitals' win that would have been crippling to their chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference final.
"He's definitely a great player," Orpik said of Ovechkin. "I've said before I love watching him play. I just don't like him taking runs at people. Even going back to last season, he took runs at [Malkin]."
Fortunately for the Penguins, it was Malkin who made sure Ovechkin's night was ruined. His pass for Crosby in overtime bounced off diving defenseman Tom Poti and past the helpless Varlamov.
"What a resilient bunch this team is," Orpik said. "I know a lot of teams think they are resilient, but I'm not sure there's one that is as consistent as this one."
It's fair to think no one enjoyed the win more than Gonchar.
"I had a chance to talk to him for about 10 or 15 minutes at breakfast," Orpik said. "He just said, 'It is what it is. You've got to let it go now. The best way to get back at him [Ovechkin] is to beat him here.'"