Viktor Kozlov Finds Timely Scoring Touch for Washington Capitals
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
PITTSBURGH, May 11 -- The fact that the Washington Capitals extended their season Monday night will be chalked up to David Steckel's goal in overtime, and rightfully so, because it provided a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, pushing the Eastern Conference semifinals to a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night. But the extended season was exemplified by something much more mundane -- Viktor Kozlov, a 34-year-old Russian, sweating profusely as he pumped his legs on an exercise bike in a cramped corridor under the stands at Mellon Arena.
"I'm very happy," Kozlov said, legs still churning, "to say the least."
Entering this postseason, Kozlov had not scored a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs despite the fact he had played in the National Hockey League for 14 seasons. He eliminated that problem in the first game of the opening round against the New York Rangers. Still, entering Monday night, Kozlov had not scored in the series against the Penguins. He eliminated that problem, too, helping keep the Capitals alive with two crucial goals, one that tied the game at 1 in the second period, the other that gave Washington a third-period lead.
In a series dominated -- in both the headlines and on the ice -- by Washington winger Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby, Kozlov's Game 6 performance was as unexpected as it was essential. He last scored twice in a game on Dec. 18 against St. Louis. He had only two assists in the Penguins series, both in Game 2, and just four points in 12 playoff games.
"He's a veteran guy," defenseman Mike Green said, "and we needed a veteran to step up and score goals."
If not, they could easily have been eliminated. Kozlov's night, too, did not begin as the Capitals wanted. In a horrid first period in which the Penguins managed 18 shots to just five for the Capitals, Coach Bruce Boudreau watched from the bench, wondering if the third piece of his top line -- joining Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom -- would ever get going.
"I said, 'Jeez, I don't think he has it,' after the first period," Boudreau said. "He mishandled a couple pucks."
In a situation in which the Capitals faced the end of their season, that was unacceptable. Kozlov, a smooth skater who has the skill to be a worthy complement to Washington's top players, merely needed to sneak one in.
"We all wish he would shoot more, because he's got such a great shot," Boudreau said. And nearly six and a half minutes into the second period, Kozlov finally unleashed something worthwhile. With Crosby limping around the ice after having been hit by a shot, Ovechkin found Kozlov just on the edge of the right circle.
"It was just a very good pass, and I just had no other option," Kozlov said, "just to shoot."
The wrister beat Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury and slipped under the crossbar. Tie game, and a goal by someone other than Ovechkin. That gave the Capitals new reason to hope. And it also may have changed Kozlov.
"Once he scored the [first] one," Boudreau said, "you knew he had a little bit of confidence."