WASHINGTON — In a series featuring several of the NHL’s most notable stars, a couple of role players and a rookie goaltender made the difference for the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their showdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tomas Fleischmann scored the tiebreaking goal with 18:14 remaining, Simeon Varlamov stopped 34 shots, and the Capitals got the jump on their Eastern Conference rivals with a 3-2 victory Saturday.
Yes, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both scored, Alexander Semin had two assists and Evgeni Malkin set up a goal.
Just as significant, unheralded David Steckel scored his first goal of the playoffs to help Washington earn its first four-game winning streak in the playoffs since 1991.
“You need secondary scoring in the playoffs and it was our time to step up and help the guys out and get some points,” Steckel said. “You’re not going to win games with only your first and second line because obviously the defense is going to be keying on them.”
Washington opened the playoffs by losing twice to the New York Rangers and had to rally from a 3-1 deficit to advance. The Capitals had no desire to have to do the same thing against Pittsburgh.
“This team is better,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Penguins. “No disrespect to New York, but we’d have no chance being down 2-0 to be able to duplicate it.”
Game 2 is Monday night in Washington.
Mark Eaton also scored for the defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins, who went 0-for-5 on the power play after going 1-for-18 in the final four games of their first-round series against Philadelphia.
“We need to do a better job on the power play,” Crosby said. “We’ll go over it and make sure we fix those things.”
The Penguins and Capitals have met seven times previously in the playoffs; Pittsburgh has won six of those series. Seventeen of the 43 playoff games between the teams have been decided by one goal, including this thriller.
“Our shot total was 36. That’s something you like to see at the end of the game,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think we could have added a few more. We had opportunities. We had chances to get some more goals. We didn’t get enough to get the goals we needed to win, so we’re going to try to get some more from the 36 shots.”
With the score tied at 2 late in the second period, Varlamov twisted his body and stretched his stick across the goal line to deny Crosby, who had taken a shot from the left of the crease after receiving a cross-ice pass from Chris Kunitz. Crosby lifted his arms momentarily to celebrate before realizing the goaltender managed to keep the puck out of the net.
“I was out of position, there was really nothing I could do, so I lunged with the stick, and it just so happened the puck hit it right on the line,” Varlamov said.
“It was kind of a desperation save,” Crosby said. “You don’t want to waste those opportunities.”