Penguins, Capitals take series to the hilt
Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann celebrates his goal with teammate Brian Pothier in the second period Monday night.
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On Friday, Mary Lou Frollo and her brood scored some free tickets from the Penguins and avoided a rainy night watching the playoffs on the big screen outside Mellon Arena.
Last night, the third time this round the Penguins went into overtime, Mrs. Frollo, from Penn Hills, was back setting up lawn chairs in her usual spot just before a thunderstorm drenched the outside crowd.
"We had to be here. Getting those tickets was great, but it's just as much fun as being inside," Mrs. Frollo said.
The unstable May weather was more suited to a Wagner opera -- jagged lighting, crashing thunder, rain blowing sideways -- but the high drama had nothing to do with a soprano wearing a metal helmet with horns. These protagonists and antagonists, clad in armor with clear visors, clashed on ice with hockey sticks, the NHL equivalent of jousting lances.
In what was a see-saw struggle that extended beyond regulation, David Steckel of the Capitals scored in overtime for a 5-4 victory that forces a seventh game tomorrow at Verizon Center in Washington, where the Penguins won in overtime Saturday.
The winner will go to the Eastern Conference final. The other berth will be filled by the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, which resumes tonight with Carolina holding a 3-2 lead.
The Penguins are engaged in the most competitive playoff series in their history. The margin of difference going into the thriller last night was 1.2 goals, just a fraction slimmer than the 1.25 difference in the 1992 Stanley Cup win against Chicago, according to Post-Gazette hockey blogger Seth Rorabaugh.
Thus far, the Penguins have scored 23 goals to 22 for the Capitals -- about as even as two teams could be after six games, three of which went into overtime.
This was a whiteout game, with the team's 113th consecutive sellout wearing white shirts and waving white towels, which most certainly were not a sign of surrender. But the overtime loss stunned the crowd and set up one of the most dramatic games in hockey -- a seventh game, with the winner advancing and the loser going on vacation.
About six minutes into the game, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead on a shot by Billy Guerin, whose son held up a post-goal sign that said, My Dad Rocks.
The Capitals refused to buckle, however, and surged into the lead on goals by Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann.
The Penguins tied it on a goal by Mark Eaton, his fourth of the series, and a goal by Kris Letang put them back on top, 3-2.
The Capitals responded with two goals in 29 seconds to take the lead once more, but Sidney Crosby got the tying goal with less than five minutes left.
Perhaps it was fitting the series is stretched because both teams are so even.
"The will is there for both teams. The want is there for both teams," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Whoever executes the best is going to win. Whoever gets a big save at the right time is going to win. If we don't win, we go on vacation. Nobody wants to go on vacation. That's the desperation of a club on the brink."
This was the 48th playoff game played between the two clubs. This is the eighth playoff series between the two teams, and the Penguins have won six, including two after falling behind, 2-0, in games.
Television executives and NHL suits drooled over this matchup because of its star power. The duel between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin was as anticipated as showdowns between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, which boosted the popularity of college basketball and the NBA two decades ago.
But this series was more than just a two-man show. The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's scoring leader in the regular season, meant that the three best hockey players in the world shared the same ice.
The series featured the NHL's past three scoring leaders, each of whom had over 100 points this season. The trio represents the previous two MVPs, and two of the three nominees for MVP this year.
If the games to date have been heart-pounding, the matchup tomorrow promises to be a classic. The back and forth of this series reinforces the notion that the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports.
First Published May 12, 2009 12:00 am