After six incredible contests, the Eastern Conference semifinal between Washington-Pittsburgh ended with a dud. The Penguins crushed the Capitals 6-2 in Game 7, and are now four wins from returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year.
Crosby wins in knockout
Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both put forth fantastic individual efforts in this series. Ovechkin scored eight goals and had 14 points - all while playing on an injured groin that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said would have kept him out of regular-season games.
“His play is what it was - it was magnificent,” Boudreau said. “He’s another one that if this was the regular season he wouldn’t be playing. You want to know how good he is? That’s how good he is.”
But Crosby will be the one who gets to add to those totals. He scored the first goal in the rout, and he added the exclamation point with a breakaway tally to make it 6-1.
“I just said, ‘great series,’” Crosby said of the meeting between the two stars at centre ice after the game. “There was a lot of eyes on this series, and it was a battle from both teams. Individually, we both wanted to make sure we made a good job, and he’s a great hockey player. He’s got a scary shot.”
Ovechkin told Crosby good luck and “go win the Stanley Cup.”
Penguins’ defenceman Sergei Gonchar played in Game 7, logging more than 15 minutes of ice time and creating the game’s first goal. This was just five days after a knee-on-knee collision with Ovechkin.
Gonchar was injured on the hit by Ovechkin early in Game 4. He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday morning and showed enough to be re-inserted to the lineup.
“Gonch showed a lot of guts tonight,” forward Craig Adams said. “I don’t know how he felt but I assume he wasn’t 100 per cent. On the power play, he’s so good out there and even if he hadn’t played any shifts beyond that first power play, giving us that first goal would have been a big boost.”
During the post-game handshakes, Ovechkin spent several moments talking to Gonchar. He told the media he was trying to explain what happened with the hit and he wanted to apologize.
“He said there was no chance he could have avoided it,” Gonchar said.
This was far from the ending Simeon Varlamov was looking for. The rookie goaltender was pulled in Game 7, the first time he was on the team’s bench since replacing Jose Theodore for Game 2 in the first round against the New York Rangers.
“He showed us he’s going to be a great goalie for a long time,” defenceman Tom Poti said. “He played unbelievable. He’s the reason we are in this point and in the Game 7. He’s an amazing goalie and amazing young kid and we are happy to have him on our side.”
Varlamov allowed four goals on 18 shots Wednesday night, and was sent to the bench just 2:13 into the second period. After being tabbed as the starter for Game 2 in the first round against New York, Varlamov became one of the biggest surprises of these NHL playoffs.
His final numbers (7-6 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage) don’t accurately portray what his value to the Caps has been in the past month.
“It’s tough - he played great and should have nothing to be discouraged about,” defenceman Brian Pothier said. “He’s been our superhero in this series and in the past one.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has spent the past six games playing well at times but not as well as the kid sensation at the other end of the ice. That changed in Game 7.
Fleury made 19 saves, but more importantly he made every save until the Penguins opened a 5-0 lead.
Three minutes into the game, Ovechkin had a golden opportunity to stake the Capitals to a 1-0 lead, but his breakaway shot was gloved by Fleury.
Nicklas Backstrom picked up a loose puck in the defensive zone and his pass up ice got behind Penguins defenceman Hal Gill. Ovechkin broke in alone on the goaltender, but was denied.
“In this series, he got some goals, but I saw him coming down and he was coming pretty quick,” Fleury said.
Said forward Bill Guerin: “That was huge. That would have gotten them right in it and really changed the game. [Fleury] really stepped up and helped us out there.”
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