Malkin bests Ovechkin's best

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Penguins couldn't stop Alex Ovechkin from putting on another show last night, and they couldn't hit him much either -- as tempting as it would have been for those determined to exact revenge on the Russian superstar.

The league's reigning MVP scored a pair of goals, but the Penguins managed to hurt Ovechkin where it should matter most, hitting the lottery with a fluky overtime goal and a dramatic 4-3 win to silence the rocking red Verizon Center.

Evgeni Malkin, a considerable talent in his own right, was the holder of the winning ticket just 3:28 into the extra period on a goal that may ultimately rip the heart out of the Caps.

The winner, which bounced off the stick of Caps defenceman Tom Poti and through the legs of goaltender Simeon Varlamov, turned the fired-up crowd forlorn just like that.

In three games over four nights, the Caps have twice lost in overtime and have gone from 2-0 series leaders to the brink of elimination.

"These games come down to mistakes and bounces," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, whose team can wrap up the Eastern Conference semi-final with a win tomorrow night back in Pittsburgh.

"We have been able to make a few less (mistakes) and we got a good bounce on the winner."

The loss spoiled another sensational effort from Ovechkin, who has alternated from hero to villain, but is every night, it seems, the can't-miss part of the show.

Even though they couldn't control him last night, the Penguins were determined to hand Ovechkin a defeat, the sensible retribution for the Russian star's knee-on-knee hit that cost them defenceman Sergei Gonchar the night before.

That message was delivered in a heart-to-heart chat Pens defenceman Brooks Orpik had with his wounded teammate early yesterday after learning Ovechkin was not going to be suspended.

"I talked to Gonch after breakfast and he told us the best way to get back at (Ovechkin) is to beat him," said Orpik, who was involved in a brief skirmish with the Capitals winger at the end of the first period.

"Coming from the guy who got injured, that was a pretty clear message."

The Penguins heard it loud and clear, bringing an energy level that made it tough to believe the teams had played just 24 hours earlier back in Pittsburgh.

When the Caps showed they were willing to match that effort, the stage was set for yet another entertaining night in a series that has delivered nothing but.

As much as it was Ovechkin stealing the show for the Caps, lesser lights shined for the Penguins.

STAAL, COOKE SCORE

First there was centre Jordan Staal getting his first of the playoffs on his 27th shot to open the scoring 5:17 into the second period.

Then there was Matt Cooke, who also scored his first of the post-season at 6:27 of the third, a goal that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead.

How fulfilling would that have been had it stood as a game-winner, given that Cooke was one of the most disgusted at Ovechkin's hit the night before?

But Great Eight wasn't done, forcing overtime with his second of the night, a quick one-time release off a pass from Nicklas Backstrom with just 4:08 remaining.

Though his game-winner was no thing of beauty, it was another strong night for Malkin, who showed once again that he shouldn't be left out of any discussion over the best player in the game involving Crosby and Ovechkin.

With his team trailing 2-1, Malkin dazzled and duped the Caps with a between-the-legs drop pass to Ruslan Fedotenko, who blasted home the equalizer just 51 seconds into the third period.

Malkin's skills came in handy earlier in overtime, as well. After bursting through the Caps defence on his way to a breakaway, the regular-season scoring leader was hauled down by Milan Jurcina at 1:29 of the extra period.

One second before Jurcina was to return, Malkin scored the winner.

"It was kind of a lucky goal, but it was a goal," Ovechkin said. "Our team understands there's only one more chance for us to move forward."

That's assuming they can slam it out of reverse first.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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