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Capitals star Alex Ovechkin leaps against the boards after scoring his first career post-season hat trick Monday night at the Verizon Center in Washington. ((Nick Wass/Associated Press))

Watching Sidney Crosby pull ahead in a superstar showdown, Alex Ovechkin decided to take matters into his own hands.

Ovechkin scored a hat trick, including the winner late in the third period, to lift the Capitals to a thrilling 4-3 win over the Penguins Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Washington's victory spoiled a marvelous performance by Crosby, who also registered a hat trick.

"It's a great atmosphere and when you win the game it's an unbelievable feeling," Ovechkin told Hockey Night in Canada. "People want to see great players play well. Both teams played well and Sidney played great tonight. He scored three goals and brings energy to the team.… He's good." 

While the showdown is tied in goals — Ovechkin and Crosby have four apiece — the Capitals are off to a flying start.

The NHL club now has a 2-0 series lead in its Eastern Conference semifinal with the Penguins.

The best-of-seven matchup shifts to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4, beginning Wednesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).

Washington centre David Steckel scored the other goal, and rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 33 saves.

Penguins netminder Marc-André Fleury finished with 29 stops.

Ovechkin, Crosby living up to billing

Ovechkin and Crosby are more than living up to their immense hype and so, too, is this series, with the Capitals skating away to a pair of one-goal triumphs.

Washington took advantage of a careless tripping penalty by Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin to forge ahead 3-2 with less than eight minutes remaining in the game.

After a faceoff win, Ovechkin rifled a one-timer to the short side of Fleury.

"Lots of goalies stop me, but I have too many chances to score goals, so sometimes the puck goes into the net," Ovechkin said of the plethora of shots his continues to register on a nightly basis.

He fired 12 at Fleury on Monday.

Malkin, on the other hand, remains a disappointment through the first two games.

"I'm going to talk to a lot of players about the things we did do well [and] didn't do well," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said when asked about Malkin's struggles. "We're going to address [it] and Geno's [Malkin's nickname] is no different.

"We need to get better in certain areas if we're going to get back in this series and have success."

Smelling blood, Ovechkin sealed the victory with 4:22 remaining, using Pittsburgh defenceman Sergei Gonchar as a screen before sending a wrist shot over the glove of Fleury — resulting in a flood of red caps onto the ice by the sold-out crowd in honour of his first career playoff hat trick.

"Sick game. Sick three goals by me and Crosby," said Ovechkin, who celebrated by bouncing his body high off the glass following both of his third-period goals.

"It's unbelievable to see how fans react, how fans go crazy. The atmosphere right now, it's unbelievable in town. You see all the red, and — probably I'm afraid to go home right now."

Following a second round of hats that descended to the ice, Crosby chatted with the referee regarding the long delay.

"People kept throwing hats," Crosby said. "And I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop."

For his part, Crosby gave the Penguins a chance, netting his third goal of the game by batting a fourth opportunity behind Varlamov on the power play with only 31 seconds left.

In the end, Ovechkin got the help that Crosby didn't receive.

"It's nice to score," said Crosby. "But it's better to win. I'm sure it's entertaining for people to watch, if I were to look at it from a fan's point of view. As a player, you don't like when the guy on the other team gets a hat trick. That's usually not a good sign."

Speed, talent thrill crowd

The teams certainly picked up the pace from Saturday's opener, with the highly skilled players from both sides showing off their speed and talent to the delight of the crowd.

The Penguins, suffering through a brutal time on the power play in Game 1 (0-for-5), took a 1-0 lead at 6:38 of the first period.

Standing in front of Varlamov, Crosby spotted the loose puck and slipped the shot between the pads of the Washington goaltender.

The man-advantage marker snapped an 0-17 drought for the Penguins.

Ovechkin viewed Crosby's goal from the penalty box as he was serving teammate Alexander Semin's high-sticking penalty.

Penguins defenceman Kris Letang had a great opportunity to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead minutes later. After serving a tripping penalty, Letang flew out of the box with a breakaway chance but missed on his backhand attempt.

Varlamov stones Crosby — again

Like he did in Game 1, Varlamov completely robbed Crosby with Pittsburgh on a five-on-three advantage, taking away the one-timer by sticking out his left pad.

He quickly followed that up with a great glove save off Gonchar.

Fleury was no slouch in the opening 20 minutes, stopping all five of Ovechkin's shots, including a pair with Washington on the power play.

Ever persistent, the Russian notched his fifth goal of the post-season just 2:18 into the second.

Ovechkin blasted a Viktor Kozlov pass that beat the out-of-position Fleury just inside the post.

Crosby, however, responded with his seventh goal of the playoffs at 10:57, giving the Penguins a 2-1 edge.

The Pittsburgh star was able to grab his own rebound in front of the Capitals' net and lift a shot over the stick of the fallen Varlamov.

Feeding off Varlamov's terrific play, the Capitals tied the game nearly five minutes later. As the Penguins defence lost sight of Steckel, the Washington centre was able to convert a rebound under the left pad of Fleury.

The Penguins suffered a potentially big loss to their blue-line. Letang, a big contributor on the power play, left in third period with an arm injury.

While he was carrying the puck into the Washington end, Letang was driven into the boards hard by Capitals defenceman Mike Green.