Penguins' outburst of goals drives Varlamov from game in 2nd period
A foretelling goal: Jordan Staal celebrates his goal in the second period, much to the chagrin of the Capitals.
Ruslan Fedotenko takes out Milan Jurcina early in last night's Game 7 at the Verizon Center in Washington.
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WASHINGTON -- The Penguins knocking Washington out of the Stanley Cup playoffs lost its novelty years ago.
They have faced the Capitals in the postseason eight times and eliminated them seven.
It has pretty much become a tradition.
But never, ever did the teams play a series like the one that ended with the Penguins' 6-2 victory in Game 7 at the Verizon Center last night.
It was the most-hyped series in recent NHL history -- maybe the most-hyped ever in the second round -- and, for six games, it didn't just live up to expectations, it exceeded them. By a lot.
But not in Game 7, as the Penguins seized control in the early minutes and didn't let go until they owned one of the most surprisingly stress-free victories in their playoff history.
"You definitely wouldn't predict a score like this," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "But we'll take it."
The Penguins are in the Eastern Conference final for the second year in a row; making them the first team to reach a conference final the year after losing in the Cup final since Detroit did it in 1996.
They will face the winner of Game 7 tonight in the series between Boston and Carolina. The Bruins will have home-ice advantage in Round 3 if they win, while the Penguins will have it if the Hurricanes advance.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who missed Games 5 and 6 because of an injury caused by a knee-on-knee hit by Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin in Game 4 Friday, was back in the Penguins' lineup.
Gonchar wore a brace on his damaged right knee that he said "helped me a lot." He took a fairly regular shift and manned the right point of the power play while logging 15:06 of ice time.
"Obviously, I wasn't 100 percent, but it was Game 7," Gonchar said. "You have to play. I'm sure everyone else would have done it."
Gonchar, who has refused to say whether he believes the hit was dirty, spoke about it with Ovechkin in the handshake line that followed the game.
"He said there was no chance he was able to avoid that hit," Gonchar said.
The series had been touted as a showdown between the NHL's two most-celebrated players, Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin, and the Penguins' victory made Crosby a clear winner in the area that mattered most.
On an individual level, however, both dazzled from earliest shifts of Game 1 to the waning minutes of Game 7. Crosby had two goals and an assist last night to finish the series with eight goals and five assists; Ovechkin picked up a goal to end with eight goals and six assists.
"One of the guys said before the game that Sid was born for this," Penguins right winger Bill Guerin said. "As was Ovechkin. Sid just had his good stuff tonight, really stepped up."
Simeon Varlamov, the Capitals' rookie goalie, did that for most of the previous six games, but unraveled in the crucible of Game 7. He allowed four goals on 18 shots before being replaced by veteran Jose Theodore at 2:12 of the second period.
"It wasn't Varlamov's best night," Guerin said. "But the kid played tremendous in the series."
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, had a fairly ordinary performance -- except for a possible series-saving save on an Ovechkin breakaway three minutes into a scoreless game.
"If that goes in, who knows where the game goes?" Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I was thinking to myself right after that, 'Maybe that's the turning point in the game.' It's definitely something you look back on. After that, we kind of dictated the play."
Yeah, kind of.
Crosby put the Penguins in front to stay with a power-play goal at 12:36 of the first, and Craig Adams made it 2-0 eight seconds later. That was the second-fastest two goals in team playoff history; Ron Stackhouse and Rick Kehoe scored seven seconds apart against Boston April 13, 1980.
Guerin (28 seconds) and Kris Letang (11:37) drove Varlamov from the game in the second period, and Jordan Staal and Crosby added goals against Theodore as a game that began with high drama morphed into something closer to low-brow comedy.
Not that Game 7 necessarily stripped much of the luster from the series.
"We all knew it was going to be a special series," Gonchar said. "Obviously, the series lived up to expectations. I think everyone's going to remember it."
First Published May 14, 2009 12:00 am