Fittingly, one of most compelling series in years will offer a Game 7
The executive director of the NHLPA raised eyebrows last week when he bemoaned the paucity of prolonged confrontations in the first round...from a strictly business perspective, of course.
No doubt, the second round has been more to his liking, with all four series extending to at least six games. And now, thanks to
The focus of the Washington-Pittsburgh series has been on
Still, it was fitting that it was supporting cast member Steckel who earned the hard hat tonight after he tipped
Steckel emerged as the unsung hero of Washington's wins in Games 1 and 2, owning Crosby in the circle and using that big 6-5, 225 body to establish the Capitals' forecheck.
But he's been noticeable more for his miscues than his heroics over the past couple games. Steckel lost the defensive zone draw in overtime of Game 3 that led to
He wrote another chapter in his nightmare diary when he slashed
"When he took the penalty and they scored the goal, he just kept saying on the bench, 'Get one back for me,'"
"He's been with me for five years now, I've said it before. He's a big-game guy."
The line of Steckel, Laich and
After a night like that, it's safe to say the group will be given another chance to re-create that magic in Game 7.
And you can bet Kelly, along with every other hockey fan, is wishing this was a best-of-nine.
Though Boudreau called Game 5 his team's best effort of the series, it was the individual effort of Ovechkin (and, to a lesser extent, Backstrom) that kept that 4-3 contest close. No doubt frustrated by the lack of support, Ovechkin subtly called out his teammates after the loss, promising, ""Next game is going to be different." That it was.
And while it wasn't the sort of concerted effort that coaches want to see more of, Washington's ability to counter-punch, and the offensive awakening of a pair of slumbering weapons, led to a more satisfying outcome. Ovechkin failed to light the lamp himself but two of his three assists helped get
"I said at the beginning, 'Geez, he doesn't have it,'" Boudreau said. "He was mishandling a couple pucks, but once he scored the first one we knew he had a little confidence. We all wish he'd shoot more because he has such great shot and him getting two goals, it's another guy you're really happy for. It was his due time."
Semin, who was strikingly ineffective through the first five games, had his most impactful performance. He initially was credited with Washington's third goal (eventually awarded to Laich) and ended up with two assists on the night. Though he failed to get off the schneid for the series, Semin was clearly more involved in the play. Even without lighting the lamp, his commitment to move in from the perimeter paid off in two drawn penalties.
Say, on a defensive zone face-off in overtime.
It's easy to speculate a different result for this game had
No doubt that fancy stick helped make Talbot the 12-goal man he was this season, but a painful break like that should leave him, and others, questioning their full-time commitment to the least reliable piece of equipment in sports.
Varlamov is now 4-0 when facing elimination, but the Caps have to be concerned about a goals-against average that's creeping higher (it's close to four over the last four games). Some of the blame falls on his defense -- the Pens are averaging 40 shots per game after Washington gave up just 24 per game to the Rangers in the first round -- and the quality of the chances he's facing are becoming more dangerous as Pittsburgh's forwards have recognized they can crash his crease with impunity.
He was sensational in the first, bailing out his defense on a handful of head-shaking turnovers that helped the Pens build an 18-5 shots advantage. As the game wore on, though, he began to overplay the puck. He was hopelessly out of position on Letang's goal and was scrambling on several other chances. Might just have been the effects of playing four games in six nights or maybe it's the sheer volume of shots he's facing, but it's hard to deny that he looks like a tired keeper heading into the most important contest of his young career. At this rate, the Caps better count on scoring at least four if they hope to win Game 7.
Coming into this game, Pittsburgh had been 7-1 against Washington in playoff overtime games. Fleury had been 5-0 in his career in playoff OT.