Tampa Bay Sports Day

Pens Send Caps Home After Game 7

The better team won. Sidney Crosby got it started appropriately enough with a power play goal from where else but in front rebounding home a Sergei Gonchar shot. Eight seconds later when grinder Craig Adams tallied his first career postseason goal off a horrible Washington breakdown, that foretold a long night for Alex Ovechkin and the Caps who were just outclassed by a better Pens team 6-2 in the nation’s capital.

How bad a beatdown was it? The Caps had an egregious 11 giveaways after one period yet only trailed by two thanks to rookie netminder Simeon Varlamov. However, that didn’t stop the Pens all out attack from chasing the poor 21 year-old Russian with veteran Bill Guerin and defenseman Kris Letang scoring 1:44 apart before the 2:15 mark of period two.

By then with Jose Theodore in, it was fairly obvious that the home club just wasn’t right and wouldn’t be able to overcome their defensive deficiencies. In particular, Alex Semin and Mike Green had nightmarish games each turning the puck over four times while finishing a combined minus-five. Both players failed miserably in this series and will now get all summer to contemplate what went so wrong.

Jordan Staal scored the Pens’ fifth straight from in front setup by Miro Satan, who actually showed more of a pulse than the aforementioned MIA Cap stars. He had two assists finishing the series with four helpers. Not bad.

Of course, Ovechkin tried all game to lift his sagging team but it just wasn’t to be. Yes. He scored a gift wraparound into an open net following the only real mistake Marc-Andre Fleury made. But by then, his eighth goal of the series came unassisted cutting it to 5-1 with 21:51 left in their season.

Perhaps the turning point came early when the Great 8 got a breakaway getting past Rob Scuderi but Fleury didn’t go for the deke making a great lightning like glove save to deny the league’s Rocket Richard winner. Soon after, Shaone Morrisonn took an unnecessary slashing penalty which Crosby converted. Then Adams scored going five-hole on Varlamov stunning the sea of red. The Caps never recovered getting outshot 16-5.

They just were never in it. Crosby setup Guerin, who beat Varlamov with a clean unscreened wrister from the right wing 28 seconds into the second. Then Evgeni Malkin dished across for Letang, who was a star in this series netting his third goal. It was his overtime winner in Game 3 that gave the Pens enough life to rally back from a 0-2 deficit victimizing the Caps again for a third consecutive time. They’ve only lost one series to them in eight.

So, a great series had a small conclusion without any drama. I can only recall the year the Red Wings won the Cup in 2002 when Patrick Roy laid an egg against Dominik Hasek following his Game 6 gaffe that the Avs never recovered from. I think the score was something like 8 7-0. Well, I was close.

It was a sad way for it to end. Fittingly, with the Caps shorthanded trailing by four early in the third, Ovechkin was out for a rare PK shift. With the team pressing shorthanded, Green foolishly forced a pass back instead of shooting. Then Ovie tried to make a move and Crosby cleanly stripped him and walked in on a clean breakaway from the red line faking before opening Theodore’s five-hole. It was the Pens’ captain’s series matching eighth goal of the series. He was every bit as brilliant as Ovechkin finishing with 13 points. Sure. Maybe AO had 14 but who cares? His team lost. Not his fault. But hey. It’s a team oriented game.

After the handshake between the two stars, Crosby gave credit to his team’s D which was very underrated in this series. Letang played well as did Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, who each saw plenty of Ovechkin. Even Mark Eaton contributed in both ends and Brooks Orpik played his traditional physical style. In the end, the Pens’ superior blueline was too much for the Capitals to overcome. It was nice to see Gonchar comeback and play netting an assist on Crosby’s opener which set the tone. And during the handshake, there was Ovechkin talking with his fellow countryman about the knee on knee collision. It looked like an apology. You could tell the respect they had for each other.

The Caps did try hard the rest of the period but only got a hardworking goal from the gritty Brooks Laich, who combined with Tomas Fleischmann. But 6-2 was as close as they would get with the Pens shutting it down the rest of the way.

Credit the Cap fans who remained for sending their team off the right way with cheers and chants of, “Let’s Go Caps, Let’s Go Caps, Let’s Go Caps!!!!!” It had to be extremely difficult to know their team would once again fall short against an old Patrick nemesis. But they did themselves proud standing and saluting their team who did likewise at the bitter end.

And so this epic battle has come to an end. Now, the Pens await the Carolina-Boston winner in another Game 7. Hopefully, that will be a little more competitive.

Here are the Pens in their second straight Conference Final though. A pretty darn good accomplishment considering where they were when Michel Therrien got axed. Dan Bylsma’s done a great job. But so too were the deadline moves for Guerin, Chris Kunitz and even Adams, who improved to 3-0 in Game 7’s. He was on the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes. So go figure that he’d save his first ever postseason goal for tonight helping crush Cap hopes.

With it now finished, there’s little doubt who the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe is. That would be Sid The Kid who’s played unbelievably leading by example. Some say he scores all his goals from in tight. So, they’re not as flashy as Ovie. But they all count the same. And last I checked, going to the net is required to score in crunchtime. I still don’t like Crosby when he gripes to the refs but the man has played great this Spring. Let’s give credit where it’s due.

Funny but in some aspects, he reminds me of a better Zach Parise with more skill. Doesn’t Parise score most of his goals from in close? Pretty much. And he’s solidified himself as a top six forward.

And so, Crosby’s Pens live to play another day. Who will it be? We’ll know sometime tomorrow night.