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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby tries to get a shot past Washington Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov in the first period. Bill Guerin scored on the rebound. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to Washington with a 2-2 Eastern Conference semifinal series tie in their pockets and a dark place in their hearts for Alex Ovechkin.

Sidney Crosby had the eventual game winner in the third period as the Pens beat the visiting Washington Capitals 5-3 on Friday night, sending the series to Game 5 in the U.S. capital on Saturday (CBC Sports, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).

It was Pittsburgh's second straight playoff victory after losing the opening pair on the road.

But the joy was tempered by a knee-to-knee hit from Ovechkin, the Washington star, on defenceman Sergei Gonchar late in the first period that ended the night for the latter and gave the former a place in the Capitals' hall of infamy.

Gonchar, who scored the first goal of the night for the Penguins, did not return, and there was no word on his availability for Saturday's contest.

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Not me, says Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin may have stuck a knee into his off-ice friendship with fellow Russian Sergei Gonchar, but he wasn't about to admit it.

The Washington star sent the Penguins' defenceman to the sidelines for the rest of the night after sticking his leg out for a knee-to-knee hit at 14:55 of the opening period of Pittsburgh's eventual 5-3 win on Friday night.

Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma said afterwards Gonchar could have returned, but the doctors wanted to be cautious. There was no word on whether he would play Saturday.

Following the game, Ovechkin was solidly in "who, me?" mode.

"[When Gonchar came around the net] I don't have time to realize what's going on and he hit my knee and it was, I think, an accident," Ovechkin said. "I'm not the kind of player who wants to injure guys.

"Especially, I know Gonch, and I wouldn't hit him like this."

Ovechkin agreed it was knee-on-knee, but added "I tried to him with my shoulder and he just moved left."

The National Hockey League is expected to review the play.

Pittsburgh led 3-2 into the third period and seemed to have salted the game away thanks to Crosby's goal.

Miroslav Satan started the play by coming down the right side with a defender on him. The winger held it… held it… and finally feathered a puck through to Crosby, who was untouched on the edge of the crease at the far side for the tip in.

Washington mounted one last assault when Milan Jurcina fired a shot that beat Marc-André Fleury on a shorthanded play that left some of the Pens upset with the referees because they felt the Caps' Matt Bradley had interfered twice within seconds.

The game was put away with five minutes to go, however, thanks to Max Talbot, who raced down the left side from his own zone and put a shot rookie Simeon Varlamov should have had into the short side for the victory.

"I think in the second period, it took us a while, and we didn't have our legs, but we knew in the third we had a good opportunity and tried to make the most of it," Crosby told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.

"We work a lot for our goals, and we just have to make sure we keep the same way."

Caps start fast again

The Penguins seemed to finally find a hole in the armour of young Varlamov as they built a 3-1 lead in the opening 20 minutes. 

But not before a nightmare start by the home side for the second straight game.

Washington's Nicklas Backstrom came into the Penguins' zone while fans were still taking their seats after the singing of the national anthem and fired what looked to be a low-percentage shot from just inside the blue line.

Low percentage, that is, until defenceman Kris Letang stuck his stick in front of the shot, and it changed direction just enough to fool Fleury for a 1-0 Washington lead at 36 seconds.

Undaunted, the Pens tied it on the first power play of the game, thanks to an eerily similar play. This time, Gonchar fired a shot from well out that seemed to go right through the tiny space between the blade and boot of defenceman Milan Jurcina's skate

That altered the course of the disk, and it beat Varlamov for 1-1 at 3:55.

After a turnover on a lousy clearing attempt by the Caps, Crosby took a pass and found himself wide open and untouched in front of Varlamov.

A shot and a rebound by the Pens' captain were stopped, but Bill Guerin had cruised into the crease unnoticed, and he was able to pound the second rebound in for a 2-1 Pens lead.

Ovie's knee takes centre stage

Before the period wound down, Ovechkin stuck his right leg out and took down Gonchar with a knee-to-knee hit.

Ovechkin went to the box for two minutes under a chorus of boos while the veteran Pittsburgh defender was helped off the ice to the dressing room.

That led to a weak goal by Ruslan Fedotenko, who cut across the top of the Washington zone, just inside the blue line, and let go an easily stoppable shot.

Varlamov bobbled it with his catching glove, however, and the puck wobbled over top of the leather and in to make it 3-1.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma was sure of what he saw on the Ovechkin hit.

"I think everyone of us in this [media] room has seen a replay, and I think it was kneecap on kneecap," he said. "The league reviews these things, and they'll do what they see fit."

Washington coach Bruce Boudreau presented the expected defence of his star.

"If you look at the replay, he led with his shoulder," he said. "It was a shoulder check that he missed."

One defensive mistake

After 15 minutes of close checking action (both coaches obviously had lit into their clubs between periods), it was the Penguins who made the first error of the middle frame.

Ovechkin brought the puck over the line and dumped off to defenceman Mike Green, who had three defenders between him and the goal.

Undaunted, he deked all three of them on a charge to the crease, could not finish the play himself but chipped the puck by a sprawling Fleury where Chris Clark was waiting to bat the disk in, closing the gap to 3-2 at 15:08.

Shots on goal in the second were just 5-4 in favour of the Caps in the second.