Evgeni Malkin didn't get the winning goal for the Penguins last night.
That chore fell to defenseman Kris Letang.
Malkin's teammates didn't mind much, though, because he did just about everything else.
He scored a goal, launched nine shots at Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov -- that's four more than Alex Ovechkin, Washington's sniper extraordinaire, threw at Marc-Andre Fleury -- and was a dominant presence nearly every time he went over the boards in their 3-2 overtime victory at Mellon Arena.
"He was at a different level," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Another level."
A level, he could have added, that most mortals can't reach in their most outrageous fantasies, let alone on one of hockey's biggest stages.
"He has a lot of pride, and a lot of character, and we saw it tonight," right winger Bill Guerin said. "He wanted to get involved in this series, and I think he did tonight."
Capitals lead series, 2-1
Malkin took possession of it, at least for this 71-plus-minute slice of it.
That's precisely what the Penguins were hoping for after Malkin, by his own assessment, had been a non-factor for much of Games 1 and 2.
"I was ready," Malkin said. "I felt good. I didn't play [well] the last two games."
The Capitals still lead the series, 2-1. Game 4 will be at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena, with Game 5 in Washington the next night.
Letang played despite a strained left shoulder stemming from a hit he absorbed from Capitals defenseman Mike Green late in Game 2.
He finished with six shots, the last of which ended the game at 11:23 of the overtime after it deflected off Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn en route to Varlamov.
"I just tried to put it on net and see what happened," Letang said.
He saw and, like the crowd of 17,132, he celebrated the reprieve that goal gave the Penguins. Only two teams in NHL history have rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, and there's not much reason to think the Penguins could have become the third.
Especially with Varlamov playing at a level the Penguins couldn't have anticipated from a rookie.
"As soon as the game ended, I told [Sidney Crosby], 'He's a good goalie,' " Penguins forward Max Talbot said. "But I think we can beat him, if we put 45 shots on him."
Well, 42, anyway.
The Penguins' 42-23 edge in shots was one of the most striking statistics of the evening. Same with their 7-2 edge in power plays, a disparity Ovechkin described as "kind of a joke."
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead 83 seconds into the game after Green shot the puck around the boards in the Penguins' end.
When Fleury went behind the goal line to play it, he dropped his stick as the puck caromed toward the front of the net -- "I lost my stick somehow, I don't know why," Fleury said -- and it struck his stick and pads on the way to Ovechkin, who tossed it into the net before Fleury could scramble back into the crease.
Ruslan Fedotenko pulled the Penguins even at 9:29 of the second, and Malkin put them in front after Alexander Semin of the Capitals was sent off for holding at 14:10 of the third.
Malkin beat Varlamov with a shot from the right side of the slot for his first goal in the past six games while Guerin was positioned directly in front of Varlamov.
"Just trying to do my part," Guerin said.
Not long after Malkin staked the Penguins to that lead, Penguins left winger Pascal Dupuis was sent off for interference.
"I seriously was hoping there was a little trap [door], so I could go right in the penalty box," Dupuis said.
There wasn't, and he certainly didn't feel any better when Nicklas Backstrom forced overtime by scoring at 18:10.
That goal could have been deadly. Instead, it just enhanced the drama of the Penguins' victory.
"We made it interesting, you know?" Talbot said. "We wanted to win before overtime, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Dave Molinari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published May 7, 2009 4:00 AM