After the Penguins fell into a 2-0 series hole to the Washington Capitals, I wrote a blog about how it wasn't time to panic yet for the birds. Crosby had been spectacular, and they were getting scoring from stay-at-home defenseman Mark Eaton (who?). But there were things the Penguins needed to work on.
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One of those things was puck posession. The Pens had not been good on faceoffs, and were making poor passes that resulted in neutral zone turnovers. Another poor decision with the puck cost Pittsburgh another goal last night when Marc-Andre Fleury left his net to settle a dump-in by the Capitals. Fleury lost his stick and then watched (along with Brooks Orpik) as the puck riccocheted off the bouncing stick right into the slot and onto the stick of a stumbling Alexander Ovechkin. Fleury and Orpik finally started moving with purpose, but too little too late. Ovechkin didn't miss the 4x6 opening he was presented with.
But did the Penguins panic? No. Instead they calmed themselves down and found a way to turn the momentum around. It started with a succesful penalty kill, a superhero-like effort from Evgeni Malkin, and finally a goal from Ruslan Fedotenko (one of those wingers that wasn't scoring, remember them?).
The Penguins kept calm, drew six penalties in a row, tied the game, kept up the pressure on Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, and finally took the lead with a power play goal (yeah, one of those) by Malkin (that guy again).
When Niklas Backstrom's desperation shot bounced off of Fleury and into the net, the Penguins could have panicked. They could have thought to themselves, "Well, I guess we really aren't supposed to win this one. Let's go home early." Instead they poured on the pressure down to the last second and into the overtime period. With an offensive zone faceoff win by Crosby, the game's fate was decided. Eaton made a perfect pass along the line to Kris Letang. Letang, who missed several chances during regulation, fired the puck as hard as he could. It deflected off Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who was partially screening his goaltender Varlamov. Varlamov caught a small piece of it, but it ended up in the net regardless.
The message here is not that the refs were perfect (they missed call on both sides) or that Fleury is better than Varlamov or that Crosby and Malkin are better than Ovechkin. You can't prove any of that to me regardless of who wins this series.
The point is that a lesser team would have crumbled after falling into a 2-0 hole. Lesser teams would have given up when a bad bounce resulted in what will likely be the easiest five-on-five goal Ovechkin will ever score in his career only 1:38 into the game. Lesser teams would have fallen apart when Backstrom tied it with just under two minutes to go. The Penguins are not one of those lesser teams. This series has only just begun, and it is sure to continue in dramatic fashion. Even if Washington wins on Friday and takes a 3-1 series advantage home for Saturday's game 5 at the Verizon Center, don't assume the series is over.
These teams are too good for this series to end in five. The Penguins have been there before. They know the playoffs all the way to the end. They believe they can win every game. They don't panic.
I can't same the same about Washington only because I haven't watched enough Caps games, but they overcame a 2-0 and a 3-1 series hole in the first round to get here. They kept trying to fight back until the last second. They got their chances. Not many, but they got them. This thing is far from over and the team that wins will have earned the right to be in the Conference finals.
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