WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pittsburgh Penguins built a five-goal second-period lead and crushed the Washington Capitals 6-2 Wednesday to win their Eastern Conference semi-final series 4-3.
Paced by Sidney Crosby’s two goals and one assist, the Penguins dominated every facet of the highly anticipated affair and will now face the winner of the Boston-Carolina series in the conference finals.
“You definitely wouldn’t predict a score like this but we’ll take it,” said Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton. “It made it a lot less stressful for us throughout the game.”
The Penguins assembled a 4-0 lead two minutes into the second period, sending rookie Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov to the bench in favor of veteran Jose Theodore.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said the script called for a tight game highlighting two of the NHL’s top scorers in Crosby and the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.
Five of the first six games of the series were decided by one goal, and three of them went into overtime.
“It certainly wasn’t the way I would have envisioned it,” Boudreau. “Whether we won or lost I never would have thought that we would have ended up in a game like it was tonight.”
Varlamov had been superb in the postseason but struggled in the series finale, yielding several soft goals.
“After the third goal I was thinking of pulling him because he looked really dejected,” said Boudreau. “After the fourth goal the wind completely came out of his sails.”
Center Jordan Staal poked a shot past Theodore with eight minutes left in the second period to give the Penguins a cozy 5-0 advantage.
Crosby now has an NHL-leading 12 goals for the playoffs, while his rival Ovechkin finished with 11.
“There were a lot of eyes on the series,” said Crosby. “He (Ovechkin) is a great hockey player. He’s got a scary shot. Even with the lead we had, with the dangerous forwards they have, we weren’t relaxed for a second out there.”
Ovechkin and Brooks Laich scored for the second-seeded Capitals, who were outshot 30-21, including 16-5 in the opening period. They were also out-hustled and out-worked by the fourth-seeded Penguins.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Laich. “We did a lot of good things this year but this game tonight is how this season is going to be remembered. It’s a shame.
“They were more composed with the puck and the reason they won the game is that they outworked us. It’s not easy to say that we were outworked in our building in a game seven.
“We’re going to have to think about that for a long time.”
Writing by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Ian Ransom