Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Just when you thought it couldn't get any better…
No, scratch that.
Everyone should have known that this epic series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins would have gotten better, and it most definitely did Monday night at Mellon Arena as the Capitals forced Game 7 with a 5-4 overtime victory thanks to a deflected puck off of David Steckel's outstretched stick 6:22 into the third extra session of this series.
Game 7 is back in the Capitals' barn, Verizon Center, on Wednesday night. Hardly a soul can wait for it.
"I was telling a couple of people after the game, 'This is so good for our game when the best players can shine on a bright stage like this,'" Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said in his celebratory press conference. "I just wish it was for the Cup."
That's impossible for obvious reasons, but the depth of how grand this series has become can be told in numbers.
Game 6 was the third that went to overtime, and Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dueled again. Ovechkin wound up with three assists and Crosby had the overtime-forcing goal and an assist on Bill Guerin's forgotten first goal of the game.
The two superstars have combined for 13 goals and 10 assists in the series, with Ovechkin tallying seven goals and Crosby six goals. Evgeni Malkin also had three assists Monday and now has eight points in the series.
"They're incredible, both of them (Crosby and Ovechkin), but I think Malkin is just as incredible," Boudreau said. "They play on a level that, boy, other people can't attain because they're that much more superior. If I wasn't behind the bench I'd sure enjoy watching them. I think a lot of people will want to see Game 7."
Even with the stars shining, the winning goal came from someone who before this series would have been called an unlikely source.
The legend of David Steckel may not be growing as fast as that of Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin, but the 6-foot-5 hulking center deserves his accolades.
Steckel had the puck on his stick barely 20 seconds into overtime in Game 5, but couldn't put home the winner. That both bothered him and motivated him, and when the puck deflected off his stick and into the net Monday night, the relief was palpable.
"I told myself if I had a chance to do it again I wouldn't miss," Steckel said. "Obviously it's a different situation, but it feels good."
The play started with Steckel winning yet another faceoff -- he won 11 of 15 in Game 6 and now 54 of 85 in the series -- to the right of Marc-Andre Fleury. In the process of winning the draw, Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot, who lost it, broke his stick.
Steckel won the puck to Brooks Laich, who while on his knees used his backhand to shovel it up the boards to Matt Bradley. Bradley gave it back to Laich for a shot from the point.
Meanwhile, Steckel slid into position in front of the net and was battling with Philippe Boucher when Laich fired a shot. He got his stick out and was able to redirect Laich's shot past Fleury for the goal he called the biggest of his career.
It was Steckel's third of the series. He scored only eight in 76 regular season games.
"I mean, that's the biggest goal of my career that I've scored," Steckel said. "I didn't know what to do, so I was just jumping around."
Had it not been for Crosby scoring another goal from within a yard of the net, the game would never have gone to overtime.
The courageous Crosby, who has scored five of his six goals in this series from right around the crease, scored with 4:18 left in regulation to make it 4-4. That was roughly nine and a half minutes after Viktor Kozlov capped a stretch of three goals in a span of 1:27 to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.
"This is so good for our game when the best players can shine on a bright stage like this. I just wish it was for the Cup." -- Capitals coach Bruce BoudreauKris Letang made it 3-2 Penguins with a power-play goal at 4:40 with a one-timer from the left circle off a rebound. Steckel was in the box for slashing Mark Eaton at the time.
Fifty-eight seconds later, Alexander Semin's wrist shot from the left circle deflected in off of Laich's knee to tie the game. The goal was originally awarded to Semin, but both Semin and Laich said after the game that it went in off of Laich's knee without any kicking motion.
Kozlov scored with a whipping forehanded shot from the goal line to the left of the net at 6:07. It was his second of the game.
"It's hard not to watch what's happening and watch what's unfolding, the storylines," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Tonight, back and forth, great players making big plays, teams answering, grabbing momentum, tying it up late, the overtime goal. It's easy to see the quality of the game, the quality of the players and the quality of the storylines.
"When you're involved in it on the bench, in the room, you're trying to do everything you can to get the positive result for your team," he added. "I'll leave the classic title to the media for later years."
Sorry coach, but it's a classic already.
"There was a lot of talk before the series started and it's everything it was made out to be," Crosby said. "We would have loved to finish it off here and it could have worked out that way, but let's just say we're all not surprised that it's going seven."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.
In overtime, Washington's David Steckel won the faceoff to the right of Marc-Andre Fleury and, in the process, Maxime Talbot -- who was taking the draw for the Pens -- broke his stick. Steckel won the draw back to Matt Bradley, who shoveled it back to Brooks Laich. Laich fired a shot from the point that Steckel was able to get a piece of in front of the net, redirecting it low and past Fleury at 6:22. Steckel was battling with Philippe Boucher in front of the net, but was able to get his stick up for the deflection. The line of Steckel, Laich and Bradley was reunited for the first time since Game 3, and did it ever pay off. It was Steckel's 10th faceoff win in 14 chances.
Viktor Kozlov has been quiet all series, but the right wing broke out in a big way with a pair of goals. Kozlov -- who skates alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom -- scored 6:07 into the third period to give the Caps a 4-3 lead a mere 29 seconds after Alexander Semin, who also had a monster game, tied the game with a sharp wrist shot. Kozlov also scored 6:27 into the second period when he wired a wrist shot into the top right corner off an odd-man rush with Ovechkin.
Here are a few notes for you after this one: It should be noted that five of Sidney Crosby's six goals in this series have come from within only a few feet of the goal. He did it again Monday night with 4:18 to play in regulation to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to overtime. His goal in Game 1 was off a wrist shot between the circles. … This was the third overtime game of this series, which can now officially be called epic. …Steckel, Boyd Gordon and Tom Poti came up with a big 3-on-5 penalty kill for 56 seconds in the first period that kept Washington's early deficit at 1-0. … Fleury gave up his first overtime goal in his fifth game and on the 43rd shot he's faced.
The Penguins certainly got the start they wanted. They outshot the Capitals, 18-5, in the first 20 minutes and got a goal from Bill Guerin at 5:55 off a 2-on-1 rush with Sidney Crosby against Tom Poti. Ovechkin was held to only one shot in the first period while seven Penguins (Crosby, Guerin, Evgeni Malkin, Mark Eaton, Jordan Staal, Philippe Boucher and Tyler Kennedy) each had at least two. If it weren't for the 3-on-5 penalty kill by the Caps the score could have easily been 2-0, or even worse.
Crosby took one of Mike Green's wrist shots off what looked like the inner part of his right ankle and had trouble getting off the ice after he cleared the puck down. As he was trying to skate off, the Caps were coming back into the zone thanks to a nice chip pass off the boards by Shaone Morrisonn to Ovechkin. They wound up with an odd-man situation and Ovechkin fed across to Kozlov, who wired a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury's glove to tie the game, 1-1, at 6:27 of the second period. Crosby did not miss a shift and, of course, scored the game-tying goal with 4:18 left in regulation.