So far, so good. The execution matched the hype, at least through one game, and one moment will resonate for the next 48 hours until Game Two arrives. Despite the numerous scoring chances on both ends of the ice, the quick tempo, and even Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin trading first period goals, the story of Game One will be Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov.
Heading into the series, much of the talk hovered around whether or not the Capitals rookie goaltender would be able to handle a high-powered offense like Pittsburgh's. Some predictions titled in favor of the Penguins because of Varlamov's inexperience, but this afternoon he proved he's capable of handling the firepower aimed in his direction and can steal a game when the pressure is on.
Towards the end of the second period, with the score tied 2-2, Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby hooked up for the Penguins best chance, which could have been the turning point of the game. Instead, Varlamov produced the save of the playoffs. As Crosby pushed the Kunitz pass towards the wide open net, "Varly", as the Verizon Center crowd chanted numerous times throughout the game, managed to get enough of his stick on the puck to keep the game tied.
After the jump, video of the save and who's to blame for Pittsburgh.
Crosby raised his arms halfway thinking he had scored. NBC broadcaster Mike Emrick was stunned as he made the save call, which a split-second earlier was about to be a goal call. Everyone Capitals fan in the building was ready to sulk in their seats until they saw the puck squirt out of the crease and onto Mike Green's stick.
It was an early flashpoint moment, one that could be haunting for Pittsburgh as the series moves along. Penguins fans might be ruing their bad luck, but while the hero of the game might have been Varlamov, the goat was certainly Pittsburgh's power play, which went 0-5 today and managed just six shots on goal.
Ranked twentieth in the National Hockey League during the regular-season, even after getting Sergei Gonchar back in February, Pittsburgh is currently 4-37 (10.8%) with the extra skater, only the Carolina Hurricanes are worse at 6.7% among teams still alive in the playoffs. How can a power-play unit with the likes of Crosby, Gonchar, and Evgeni Malkin be so terrible? That's something that Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma will need to figure out heading into Game Two.
If what the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals showed us this afternoon is a preview for how the rest of the series is going to play out, then we're in the early stages of something legendary. Tomas Fleischmann's second goal of the playoffs 1:46 into the third period put Washington up for good and despite being out shot 36-26, the Capitals were able to hang on for the 3-2 victory.
Washington was boosted by a shaky Marc-Andre Fleury, who's history of poor rebound control led to David Steckel's tally to tie the game at one in the first period. The Penguins net minder did not seem confident all afternoon and was helped by his post twice in the first period.
Game Two is Monday night back at Verizon Center and while Pittsburgh started the game controlling the tempo and fore-checking aggressively, they seemed to get away from it after Ovechkin's power-play goal that gave the Capitals the lead for the first time in the game. A goal in which the NHL's ‘Rocket' Richard Trophy winner was forgotten about on the backside. Even though it came on a 5-on-3, leaving Ovechkin by himself is something no defenseman should let happen.
In the end, Game One provided an entertaining opener to a series with much expectation. After the three full days worth of talking and analysis, it's now down to just hockey. Adjustments are going to be made by both Bylsma and Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau heading into Game Two. Simeon Varlamov just stepped his game up another level. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were present and noticeable. How much better can it get?
- Sidney Crosby