Prisuta: Pens never stopped believing
WASHINGTON — Five minutes prior to the opening face-off, the house lights went down, the sound system started cranking out Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " and a good many of the 18,277 crammed into the Verizon Center for Game 7 between the Penguins and Capitals started singing.
This had indeed been an Eastern Conference semifinal to sing about, and shout about, and to commit to memory if only for the sheer spectacle of it.
But with one game remaining, the series that had a little bit of everything still needed an ending.
The Penguins saw to it on Wednesday night that it would be remembered as perhaps the greatest series ever to end in a blowout.
They never stopped believing, not after they fell behind two games to none and not after they were beaten at home in Game 6, a 5-4 Capitals victory that necessitated Wednesday night's Game 7.
But most importantly, the Penguins never stopped coming.
Their 6-2, series-winning triumph stands as a tribute to perseverance, to keeping the faith and to playing your game.
So complete was their victory that even Alexander Ovechkin couldn't muster up any mustard for the hot dog after scoring the Capitals' first goal at 18:09 of the second period.
It was 5-0 Penguins by then, and rookie sensation Simeon Varlamov was watching from the bench rather than the crease.
The Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby showdown this series had been anticipated and even expected given the talents and tenacity of the two superstars.
But Varlamov, by comparison, was a party-crasher, a guy whose resume suggested he could still just as easily be playing for the AHL's Hershey Bears, the team still represented on one side of his helmet.
Yet through six games, Ovechkin and his previously anonymous countryman were threatening to turn Penguins vs. Capitals into "Varly & Me."
So impressive had Varlamov been in standing up to a barrage of Penguins' shots from one game through the next that Pens coach Dan Bylsma was actually asked prior to Game 7 if his team wasn't making things relatively easy on the Russian rookie by keeping him in rhythm with a steady diet of force-fed rubber.
"We're going to try to go out and get 40-plus shots again," Bylsma responded.
They got 16 to the Caps' five in the opening 20 minutes, almost matching the 18-5 advantage they amassed in the first period of Game 6.
The difference this time was that eight seconds after Crosby opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 12:36 of the first, Craig Adams scored again.
All of a sudden it was 2-0, and the rout was on.
With the floodgates finally forced open, the Penguins continued pouring it on.
They got two more in the first 2:12 of the second, at which point Varlamov was yanked.
They greeted backup Jose Theodore with still another goal at 11:37.
By then, the only thing rockin' was the red light behind the Caps' net.
Varlamov and the Caps had come so close.
But the Penguins never doubted their plan or their talent.
"We just kept shootin'," Bill Guerin said.
And when they absolutely had to, they exploded.
As they believed all along they eventually would.