Cooke makes an impact

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- It was his first playoff goal since 2004, so of course Matt Cooke was surprised to play such an important role in the Penguins' big Game 5 win.

Like most, Cooke admits having been caught up in the main story lines of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the Washington Capitals.

"It's almost a situation like we stood around and watched as Ovechkin and Crosby stole the show," Cooke said after his third-period goal helped the Pens claim a 3-2 series lead with their overtime win in D.C. on Saturday night.

While Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have more than lived up to their billing, the compelling angles in this matchup continue to accumulate.

Some other observations heading into tonight's Game 6 at Mellon Arena where a Pens win would send them to the conference final for a second consecutive spring:

- After the first two games, rookie Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov seemed to be standing on his head, the big reason his team was up 2-0.

The 21-year-old has looked ordinary in his past two contests, however. In Washington's 5-3 loss here on Friday, he was awful. Though he improved somewhat the next night, the routine great saves he was making earlier were lacking.

"We believe in him," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're just going to regroup and go at it."

Varlamov, by the way, has played more post-season games (10) than regular-season games (six) in his brief NHL career.

- Much like their differences in personality, Crosby and Ovechkin have dramatically different degrees of flash on the ice. Ovechkin nearly took over Game 5 on his own with a pair of goals and an assist and, with his animated skating style, it's hard not to leave your seat every time he touches the puck.

Crosby, meanwhile, never takes a shift off and though he was held pointless Saturday still had another big game, twice hitting the crossbar.

His key faceoff win in overtime in Game 3 to set up Kris Letang's winner may have been the least-heralded big play in the series.

- Might Washington defenceman Mike Green be playing himself out of consideration for Canada's Olympic team? During a regular season in which he scored 31 goals, Green was at times compared to former star Paul Coffey who was renowned for his puck-moving skills.

Green has just one goal in these playoffs, though, and has looked sluggish and lacking in confidence at times.

The Team Canada braintrust has made it clear it is paying close attention to playoff performances to gauge how prospects handle pressure. So far, Green has hurt rather than helped his chances.

- All five games have been tied at some point in the third period, with two going to overtime. The only game that wasn't in doubt in the final minutes was Pittsburgh's 5-3 win in Game 4.

- Is there no end to the brilliance from Russian-speaking players in this series? The latest is Pittsburgh forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has scored in each of the past three games and had 10 shots on goal in Game 5. Fedotenko was a disappointment with just 16 regular-season goals.

"Ruslan is a playoff player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday.

"If you're going to have success in the playoffs, you need guys like that to step up."

- As with any series, the animosity heats up the deeper it goes. That said, the Caps have no intention of returning Donald Brashear to the lineup tonight despite the fact that he has now served his six-game suspension.

- The Caps just can't stand prosperity, it seems, when they meet Pittsburgh in the post-season. In three of the previous series (1992, 1995 and 1996) they have lost to the Penguins, Washington has held a two-game lead at some point only to cough it up.


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