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Pens even series with Caps; Game 5 is tonight

By not crossing a fine line between frustration and bitterness, the Penguins have provided themselves an opportunity to rock the red right out of the Washington Capitals.

A 5-3 win Friday at Mellon Arena evened this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, 2-2, and set up a pivotal fifth game tonight at Washington's Verizon Center.

Center and captain Sidney Crosby's ninth playoff goal and fifth of this series early in the third period proved a winner for the Penguins, who swept Games 3 and 4 at home in a playoff series for the first time since the 1991 Wales Conference final against Boston.

They won four in a row to close that series, and perhaps history is repeating itself.

"We were upset with the outcome of the first two games, but we felt we played well and that we played well enough to win to top that," defenseman Rob Scuderi said of this series last night after he assisted on two goals, including forward Max Talbot's insurance tally late in the third period.

"We thought their goaltender was the difference. But we thought, 'That's OK, don't be bitter about it; just come home, win two games and take it from there."

They may take it without veteran defenseman and power-play lynchpin Sergei Gonchar, who did not return last night after a knee-on-knee collision with Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin early in the opening period.

Gonchar, the nature of whose injury was not disclosed, was not available for comment. His status for Game 5 and the remainder of this postseason is not known.

Ovechkin, a Russian with previously acknowledged respect for his countryman, spoke after Game 4 with regret about the hit - for which he received only a two-minute tripping penalty, and may be fined by the NHL.

"I think it was an accident, but I'm not the kind of player who wants to injure other guys," he said. "Especially... (Gonchar). I wouldn't hit him like that."

Several Penguins offered looks of disgust as they gathered inside their players' lounge and watched analysis from Canadian television commentators while video footage of the hit was broadcast.

Crosby shook his head after hearing a commentator criticize Gonchar for "not moving out of the way."

However, soon after, Crosby focused his attention on what his club had done well to tie this series. He also noted how having played 57 games without Gonchar in the regular season, 56 because of his recovery from left-shoulder surgery, has prepared the Penguins to move forward now.

"We all were forced to play different positions and a couple of things like that, so we're used to that experience, and (we'll) find a way to still be productive without him," he said.

"There's no choice right now."

After Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov had turned aside 106 of 114 shots through three games and after trailing, 1-0, following center Nicklas Backstrom's second playoff goal 36 seconds into the opening period last night, the Penguins had no choice but to rally - and fast - or face a 3-1 series deficit.

Gonchar's blast at 3:55, three seconds before a power play was to expire, tied the score, 1-1. Right wing Bill Guerin scored his third playoff goal, and snapped a seven-game drought, at 10:47 for a 2-1 lead.

The Penguins amassed their first two-goal lead of the series, at 15:25, on left wing Ruslan Fedotenko's third goal of the playoffs, and second in as many gams.

Varlamov had allowed three goals on 10 first-period shots. He finished with 23 saves, and his five goals allowed were a postseason-worst.

Capitals winger and captain Chris Clark tallied his first of the playoffs at 15:08 of the second period to cut the Penguins' lead, but Crosby's early-third period score extended his club's advantage again to two goals.

On a late power play the Penguins not only failed to score; they surrendered a shorthanded goal - their second allowed of the playoffs - to Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina at 6:23. The Penguins lead was slim at 4-3.

However, Fedotenko expertly set up Talbot, who whipped a shot past Varlamov at 14:46 to ice a victory the Penguins, to a man, always believed they would get.

"I'm the type of person that doesn't deny the thoughts that go through all of our heads," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We didn't know for certain that we were going to win two games. We believed we could.

"We tied it up here, but it's best out of three now."

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