The Penguins entered their second-round playoff series against Washington intent on having the defense tandem of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill on the ice against Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin as much as possible.
Heading into Game 6 at Mellon Arena last night, their plan had worked, for the most part.
While Ovechkin's total of seven goals during the first five games might strike some as evidence the Penguins' coaching staff should have considered another option, it actually was delighted with the work of Scuderi and Gill.
A more detailed look at Ovechkin's production shows why.
Two of his goals during Games 1 through 5 came on power plays; of the other five, the Scuderi-Gill pairing was on the ice for just two.
The other pairings victimized at even-strength were Mark Eaton-Sergei Gonchar, Gill-Brooks Orpik and Eaton-Orpik.
Assistant coach Mike Yeo, who handles the defensemen, described Scuderi and Gill yesterday as "two guys who know what their role is when [they] step on the ice," adding that, "I've always believed that it's easier to do your job when you have a pretty strict set of guidelines for what that job is."
In Round 1, that meant limiting the damage done by Philadelphia's Jeff Carter, the No. 2 goal-scorer in the NHL during the regular season. When the Penguins advanced to Round 2, Scuderi and Gill were told to focus on Ovechkin, who led the league with 56.
"Whether it's playing against Jeff Carter or playing against Alex Ovechkin or whoever we might be playing on a particular night, for the most part, these are guys we're going to lean on," Yeo said.
Scuderi said he was "satisfied" with the pair's work against Ovechkin going into last night but noted that trying to shut him down is not terribly realistic.
"It's more of a pick-your-poison type of thing," he said. "You can let him take that shot from 25 or 30 feet, and it's still a pretty amazing shot, or you can let him get inside and let them have some offensive-zone time, which you don't want, either"
The significance of the game last night was apparent to anyone who has been following the series -- or has a grasp of basic math -- and that's good, because there was nothing about the Penguins' demeanor to suggest they were caught up in the knowledge that they had a chance to end the Capitals' season.
Their game-day skate looked like any other, and there was no discernable tension in the locker room, where players went through their game-day routines just as they would have a week or a month or a half-season ago.
"It's business as usual," right winger Bill Guerin said. "It doesn't matter what the situation is."
That doesn't mean the Penguins were oblivious to the importance of Game 6, just that they weren't allowing it to alter the focus that had served them so well to that point.
"That's a key to the playoffs," Eaton said. "You want to try to stay on a even keel, [remember] the adage about not letting the highs get too high or the lows get too low.
"We've been in this situation before. I don't think there's too much nervousness. Just a sense of urgency about the task at hand."
The Capitals entered Game 6 with at least one thing going for them: The knowledge that, if shootouts were removed from the mix, they hadn't lost four games in a row since Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon as coach in November 2007
Credit for that, Washington defenseman Tom Poti said, can be shared by Boudreau and his players.
"It's him motivating us not to lose too many in a row, and it's the character in this room," Poti said. "I think that's why we've been successful the last year and three-quarters."
How's this for symmetry?
The Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre is playing the Capitals' top team, Hershey, in a second-round series at the same time the parent clubs have been meeting in Round 2.
That series is tied, 3-3, with Game 7 set for tonight at the Giant Center in Hershey. The home team has won every game to this point.
The Baby Penguins are trying to win a series in which they faced a 2-0 deficit for the fourth time in franchise history, something no AHL team has managed in the history of the league.
Ovechkin is a lot of things for Washington, including the face and foundation of the franchise.
Despite that, and being the game's most prolific goal-scorer and an alternate captain, he apparently is not a particularly prominent voice in the Washington locker room.
"I haven't seen it -- coaches aren't in the room a lot -- where he would stand up and say something profound other than cheering: 'Come on, guys. Let's go,' " Boudreau said.
"I haven't seen him walk around and say, 'OK, guys, this is what we have to do ...' unless he's echoing my statements."
Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski, recalled from Wilkes-Barre before Game 5 because of Gonchar's knee injury, faced Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov twice in the AHL this season, enough to convince him that "he's a good goalie."
Varlamov went 1-1 for Hershey in those games.
The one that stands out to Goligoski was a 1-0 Wilkes-Barre victory March 29, when Varlamov made 36 saves.
"He was really good," Goligoski said. "He gets across with his pads real quick. He's got quick feet."
The Penguins used the same lineup they had for Game 5, scratching forwards Petr Sykora, Pascal Dupuis and Eric Godard. ... FSN Pittsburgh's telecast of Game 5 last Saturday recorded a 21.38 rating, a record for an NHL game on any FSN regional network.
Staff writer Shelly Anderson contributed to this report. Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com .