Pens cruise, Caps flounder in Game 7 to forget

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For six games, it appeared that we were watching a classic playoff series between Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals. Unfortunately, all that had changed by the time the final horn sounded in Game 7.

While the first six games of the series were decided by a total of seven goals, the final game was a bloodbath. Before the home crowd in Washington knew what hit them, the visiting Penguins held a 5-0 lead.

The Penguins ultimately skated away with a 6-2 victory, as Washington's season ended in a home Game 7 for the second consecutive spring.

While the lifeless performance turned in by the Caps in Game 7 may have prevented this from becoming a classic series, the first playoff encounter between Crosby and Ovechkin still had many memorable moments.

Of course, the series will be remembered simply for the fact that it was the first time Crosby and Ovechkin faced off in the frenetic atmosphere of the NHL playoffs. After all, they are the NHL's two biggest stars at the moment and will continue to be the face of the league for a long time.

Both players delivered the goods with tremendous offensive performances over the seven game series, as Crosby and Ovechkin turned in eight goals apiece. Ovechkin led all players in the series with 14 points, while Pittsburgh's captain was just one point behind.

There was the unforgettable Game 2 meeting, which featured hat tricks by both Crosby and Ovechkin, marking the first time in 13 years that players on opposing teams were able to pull off that feat in the playoffs. And even though Washington took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-3 victory in that contest, the chances of this being a quick sweep always seemed unlikely.

All the games leading up to Game 7 had been close competitions, with neither team able to dominate for a full 60 minutes. In fact, prior to the decisive contest, there were only a handful of stretches where a team could boast even a two-goal lead.

So, what exactly happened in the conclusive meeting of this series?

Pittsburgh had appeared to be the slightly stronger team towards the end of the series, but there was no way of predicting the bottom would fall out on the Caps the way it did.

The Pens deserve loads of credit for coming out in a hostile environment to put forth a relentless effort in Game 7, but that doesn't excuse Washington's lack of energy.

Perhaps the Caps had used up all their emotional capital (no pun intended) to reach the final game. After losing three straight to the Pens, Washington needed to win Game 6 on the road, in overtime, to even extend the series to a seventh game.

The Caps' roster was largely unchanged from last spring, but that won't be the case this offseason, as the club needs to take a hard look at itself after having their playoff run cut short once again. Washington has plenty of decisions to make regarding veteran players who are scheduled to hit the free agent market this summer, including Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Donald Brashear.

However, the Caps did accomplish something rather significant this postseason despite lasting only one more round than it did last spring. Washington found out that goaltending prospect Simeon Varlamov can certainly play at the NHL level, as the 21-year-old rookie went 7-6 with a .918 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average in 13 playoff contests. Varlamov will likely split time with veteran netminder Jose Theodore next year before taking over the No. 1 job.

Overall, the series was an important step forward for the NHL, as the Washington-Pittsburgh matchup generated a great deal of publicity for the league before the series even started. The fact that the playoff encounter brought out the best in both Crosby and Ovechkin should pay dividends the next time these clubs meet in the postseason.

It's unfortunate that Game 7 was not at all competitive, but the series as a whole showed us glimpses of great things to come in the rivalry between the league's most recognizable faces.

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Dan Di Sciullo
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