Thursday, May 14, 2009
No playoff series was more highly anticipated than the Penguins vs. the Capitals and the match-up of the NHL's two best players Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. Crosby and Ovechkin combined for 27 points in the series. Through the first six games the series lived up to the hype, with four games decided in overtime and each team stealing one win on the road. In game seven though the Pittsburgh Penguins went into Washington and showed why they were in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, trouncing the Caps with a 6-2 win.
The Pens got on the scoreboard early and often in the game scoring five of their six goals in the first two periods. The Pens took advantage of a power play mid-way through the first period to get on the board with a Crosby rebound. Eight seconds later Craig Adams put the Pens up 2-0. As the second period began the Caps were still very much in the game. They had gotten early pressure in the 1st period and could get back in the game with a quick score to start the second period. Two goals were scored in the first three minutes of the second period, unfortunately for the Caps they were both for the Pens. The Capitals had to replace their rookie sensation Goalie Simeon Varlamov, who was a big reason why they had advanced as far as they had in the playoffs, for the veteran Jose Theodore.
Varlamov only managed to stop 14-18 shots and didn't have the magic he had earlier in the post season. Though the blame shouldn't fall on him too much. The Caps defense, which had been spotty all series, fell apart in game 7. Also in hindsight one might want to question the coaching decision of having Varlamov start in 13 straight playoff games. Normally its not a huge deal for one goalie to play throughout the playoffs, but Varlamov only played in 6 games scattered throughout the regular season. He wasn't helped by the fact that the Caps defenders let the Penguins out shoot Washington all series. Now you had to start Varlamov in games 6 and 7 with the Caps facing elimination, but the Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau should have considered giving Varlamov a night off. Game 4 would have been the perfect time to rest him, the Caps were up 2-1 in the series and had a home game the next night.
Overall I think the best team won the series. The Penguins dominated the series in terms of shots and tempo. They were consistently putting pressure on the Capitals, and were only put in the situation of a 7th game due too the stellar performances of Ovechkin and Varlamov. I think the experience of the Penguins was a big difference in this series. They were never out of any game and never showed signs of pressing. Pittsburgh now advances to the Conference Finals to take on the winner of the Boston vs. Carolina. Overall the Capitals should feel good about their playoff performance. They proved that they were among the best teams in the NHL and found their goalie of the future in Varlamov. They will be back and will likely have a chance for a rematch again in the postseason.