WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Capitals edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Saturday in the first game of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series.
Right wing Tomas Fleischmann scored less than two minutes into the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and help the Capitals win their fourth successive playoff game.
Washington’s rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov stopped 34 shots including a spectacular save from a second-period effort by Sidney Crosby with the score 2-2.
“It was obviously a turning point because they would have had the lead and we would have had to play catch up,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters.
Varlamov, 21, also stopped all 13 shots he faced in the final period.
“It’s important to start with a win,” said the young Russian. “It gives you a psychological edge.”
Crosby tallied on a wrist shot for the Penguins four minutes into the game but David Steckel and Alex Ovechkin countered for Washington before the period was out.
Mark Eaton fired a slap shot past Varlamov in the second period to make it 2-2 and set up Fleischmann’s winner.
Crosby thought he had a second goal with two minutes remaining in the second period but Varlamov reached out with his stick to stop the puck just before it crossed the line.
“I was amazed,” said Washington center Brooks Laich. “I was like ‘Oh my God’.
“I saw Crosby shoot and I was like ‘That’s in’, then he just reaches back and grabs it and the whole bench was like ‘Wow, that’s our break, let’s get going, we’ve got to smarten up and play better’.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said: “He made a spectacular save. There was an open cage and I think Sidney was on his backhand and he put his stick back there and got it right on the goal line.”
Game Two is in Washington on Monday.
The surging Capitals were on the brink of elimination in their quarter-final series against the New York Rangers but won the final three games to reach the semis.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Louisville and Gene Cherry in Raleigh; editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com