Mike Wise: Save Came Early for Caps

By Mike Wise
Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Before David Steckel deflected the puck that pierced the Penguins, before he pushed this irresistibly insane series to the limit, he thought back to a moment in the middle of the first period -- a moment that saved the Washington Capitals' season long before that goal in overtime.

"That's got to be the most satisfying [penalty kill] I've ever been a part of," Game 6's unlikely hero said in a dead-quiet corridor of the Mellon Arena on Monday night. "Big stage. Big moment. We need it to stay alive and give ourselves a chance later. Yeah, that's got to be it."

Five players on the ice against three -- a virtual death knell for a goalie when a team as potent as Pittsburgh is recoiling its sticks and already leading 1-0. But there was Steckel, the same 6-foot-5, elongated frame that poked that puck home two hours later, reaching his limbs out as far as they would go. Boyd Gordon, bumping and bothering. And Tom Poti, dropping to all fours -- not once, but twice -- as if he were a man terrified he had lost his contact lenses on the ice.

"I was like a frog, kicking my legs out left and right, trying to discard anything," Poti said. "I can't let that puck go through, because if I do there's two guys whacking away. It was a key, key moment."

It was the defining moment in Game 6, 56 seconds worth of desperation and effort and trust and all the things the Washington Capitals were going to need besides Alex Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich to stave off defeat in an elimination game for the fourth time this season and sixth time in two seasons of resilient, back-to-the-wall playoff hockey that has the District abuzz for Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

They rolled another seven? They rolled another seven.

Because Steckel, Poti and Gordon refused to give in on a five-on-three advantage, Pittsburgh's chance to widen its 1-0 lead and waltz to a series-clinching victory drifted away, down ice.

Sure, Steckel's winning score that pushed this heirloom to Game 7 is worth another look, maybe 10 if you remember Dale Hunter and Peter Bondra and all the years of hardship and heartbreak felt keenly by the Capitals' longtime legions. But if I'm Bruce Boudreau, the only mandatory viewing my team sees from last night at the Igloo is Steckel poking the puck away and Poti, his body in a prone position, sprawling, protecting the territory between him and Simeon Varlamov, standing sentry over a season.

Before Poti would have allowed a second goal to the Penguins at that moment, the defenseman would have sooner given up his home or his dog.

"Huge," said Mike Green, the last player to leave the victorious visiting locker room as he dressed and toweled off his Mohawk. "It's the little things like that -- really, the big things like that -- that wins these kind of games. Those guys that were out there were so important for us at that juncture. They gave us the opportunity to come back and win."

You know how many of the Penguins' 42 shots were taken during those seminal 56 seconds? Four.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company