The hockey world's favorite rivalry was renewed in full force tonight for the final regular season matchup between the President Trophy winning Capitals and the defending Cup champion Penguins. The winds of change seem to be blowing in the Cap's favor this season. Washington was 1-7-1 in the first nine meetings with Pittsburgh after the 2004-05 work stoppage. Since then, coinciding with Bruce Boudreau’s time behind the bench, the Caps are 7-1-2. With a win tonight Caps were hoping to sweep the season series with the arch rival Penguins for the first time.
There were some pivotal players missing from both benches as Mike Green and Evgeni Malkin were both out nursing minor ailments, notably absent from their perspective teams. Semyon Varlamov got the nod to try his hand against the Pens and was on his game through the opening period. The Capitals lit the lamp first courtesy of an Alex Semin hockey school against a stumbling Alex Goligoski. The speedy Russian sniper spinned and deked his way around the Pittsburgh defender to get the Capitals on the board. The Caps marked yet another milestone this evening reaching the 300 goal mark, becoming the first team to score 300 since 2005-06 (Ottawa, 312, and Detroit, 301)! Yet another round of applause for this latest extraordinary achievement!
End of first period: Capitals 1 - Penguins 0
The Capitals started out the second period on the right foot with a goal from Mike Knuble less than a minute after the opening face off. Knuble caught Marc-Andre Fleury out of position and smoothly slipped the puck in as Fleury was flush left in front of his crease. Unfortunately, Knuble would go to the box for a hook which would give the Pens the man-advantage at the 5:35 mark. Despite an absolutely lovely Capitals' penalty kill in the first period, the uber-hated captain of the ice birds, Sidney Crosby, beat Varlamov to get the home team on the scoreboard. The league's leading offense would strike again less than 20 seconds later courtesy of Tomas Fleischmann and that would be all she wrote for Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh's net minder could not contain his frustration as he made his way to the dressing room after being replaced in goal with former Capital Brent Johnson. HM was seeing visions of a Tuukka Rask type meltdown as the Flower banged his stick on his way through the tunnel. The middle stanza was a high-scoring one as the Penguins tallied for the second time with a goal from recent acquisition Jordan Leopold that took a fluky bounce. It looked as if the Pens had another one but the refs had blown the whistle before the puck trickled past Varlamov. Of course the guys in black and gold were not in the least bit happy with that call and somewhat of a melee ensued in front of the goal (of course Matt Cooke was in the vicinity). The Caps' offensive threat was bolstered by more secondary scoring as everybody's favorite grinder, Matt Bradley, tipped one in to give the boys a two-goal lead in the waning seconds of the middle period. End of second period: Capitals 4 - Penguins 2
This matchup always has the aura of a playoff game, no matter when these two teams play during the regular season. Tonight's game was no different with the momentum shifting at a moment's notice. The Pens struck first to open the final period with Jordan Leopold's second marker of the evening - a wicked slapshot to beat Semyon Varlamov. And Alex Ovechkin's brief slump came to an end in fitting fashion, less than fours seconds into a Capitals' power play. After Bill Guerin took a seat for high-sticking Shaone Morrison, the best power play unit on the planet went to work. Nick Backstrom got the puck to Ovi right off the face off and his powerful wrister got him right back into the race! In addition to scoring, Ovechkin was a virtual wrecking ball in the third hitting everyone that got in his path - including super villain Cooke. Both Johnson and Varly made several eye-popping saves in their third period efforts. Eric Fehr paid a visit to the sin bin late in the third for a high stick, but again the Caps' penalty killing was solid at a crucial point.
As the final minute and a half ticked off the clock, Brent Johnson went to the bench for the extra attacker but to no avail. With two seconds remaining, the Great8 took aim with an empty net looming in front of him and the fat lady starting singing at the top of her lungs. Ovi's goal put him right back in the forefront of the Rocket Richard race and the win gave the Capitals a glorious series sweep against their heated rivals.
Final Score: Capitals 6 - Penguins 3