OT win keeps Pens' hopes alive

Rob Longley, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- This time when the lights went on, Evgeni Malkin didn't forget his lines.

No longer was the Penguins star willing to be cast as a bit player while others get the star treatment.

With an inspired performance from Malkin and an overtime winner from Kris Letang, the Penguins and their leading scorer are back on centre stage in this Eastern Conference semi-final that gets more compelling by the night.

A 3-2 win over Washington in front of a wild, white-clad crowd at the Mellon Arena cut the Caps series lead to 2-1 heading into tomorrow’s Game 4 of the best-of-seven series here in the Steel City.

Letang played the hero with his shot from the point 11:23 into the extra period that bounced in off the leg of Caps defender Shane Morrison and past a helpless Simeon Varlamov, who was once again spectacular in the Capitals net.

But it was the play of the much-maligned Malkin that added a new layer to this delicious matchup.

His power play goal with 4:59 remaining in the third period almost won it for the home team, but a late Nic Backstrom reply with less than two minutes remaining spoiled that.

More importantly, Malkin had the type of dominant game he shows often in the regular season but had been largely absent thus far in this series. There were breakaways, fancy dekes and generally spectacular plays from the Russian superstar, who had a game-high nine shots and countless serious scoring opportunities.

While he didn’t say much about his struggles the past few days, it is clear that Malkin still believes his name should be in lights on the top of the marquee alongside teammate Sidney Crosby and his Capitals nemesis, Alex Ovechkin.

“He wants to be there when the tough time comes,” Penguins forward Max Talbot said of his linemate. “Him and Ovechkin and Crosby .... they want to be the best. (Malkin) definitely had his game face on and the more the game went on, the more confident he became.”

While Crosby and Ovechkin stole the show by trading hat tricks in Monday’s Game 2, Malkin had taken the brunt of the heat for the Pens’ trailing 2-0 in the series. The fact that he had gone goalless in five consecutive games prior to last night only added to the heat.

But the regular-season scoring leader had been getting his chances and when Crosby and Ovechkin were held in check last night, it was Malkin’s time to elevate his role.

“He was dominant with the puck,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “Gino’s game was at another level. It was great to see him respond.”

As with the first two games of the series, the bounces had this one threatening to go either way.

Ovechkin scored the opener 1:23 into the first period after snagging a bizarre ricochet that handcuffed Marc-Andre Fleury behind the Pens net. It was the easiest goal the Caps sniper will ever get and it deflated the juiced up crowd.

Ruslan Fedotenko made that tit for tat when an attempted pass hit the leg of a Caps player before coming back to his stick and promptly being fired past Varlamov.

The longer the game went though, the more the Pens started to seize control of the tempo and the scoring opportunities. They outshot the Caps 42-23 on the night and if it weren’t for Varlamov, there wouldn’t have been even a threat of overtime.

Caps coach Bruce Beaudreau, meanwhile, was steamed at the steady stream of penalties his team took which allowed the Pens to become so dominant in the final two periods. At one point, Pittsburgh had six consecutive opportunities with the man advantage.

“As far as penalties go, we’ll never hear them complain again,” Boudreau said.

That wasn’t the only gripe from the Caps, however. “In overtime the ice was just a mess,” Ovechkin said. “The puck was bouncing. It was hard to control.”

So was Malkin, who along with Crosby gives the Penguins a potent one-two punch the longer this series continues.

“Over the last few days, he was taking quite a bit of heat even though he was playing well,” Crosby said. “But tonight he raises his game even more.”


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