PHILADELPHIA — It’s Ovie vs. Sid the Kid in the postseason, take II.
OK, Sidney Crosby isn’t called a kid much at all these days, and he already has one Stanley Cup title.
And for Alex Ovechkin, well, it had been more like Ova and out in a postseason history littered with early exits.
But seven years after Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals in the lone playoff meeting between the two greats, they are ready for the rematch.
“Pittsburgh is huge,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be a hard series. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
The NHL world can’t wait.
Ovechkin can, earning some needed rest after the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 on Sunday in Game 6 to win the series 4-2 and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Capitals scored two goals over the final three games of the series and clearly need more offense from Ovechkin and Co. to have a chance against the Penguins, who beat the Rangers in five games.
Against the Flyers, it was just enough, though.
Braden Holtby had 26 saves for his second shutout of the series. He stymied a Flyers team that went a miserable 1 for 24 on the power play and failed to score on nearly 2 minutes of a 5-on-3 edge in the second period that doomed their chances.
Consider, the Penguins scored 11 goals total in their final two decisive wins against New York.
“The Penguins are obviously rolling, especially offensively, but we’re confident in our game,” Holtby said. “We’re confident in our game plan to shut teams down defensively and still have offense.”
The Capitals pushed Pittsburgh to the limit in a fantastic 2009 playoff series. The Penguins won in seven games in a series that had six games decided by one goal and three that were decided in overtime. Ovechkin had 14 points in the series and Crosby 13. The superstars had memorable dueling hat tricks in Washington’s Game 2 victory.
The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have not even reached the Eastern Conference finals since 1998. The reward for beating the Flyers: keeping alive the pursuit of the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Early in the third period, a Flyers fan held up a sign directed at Washington that read, “You’ll choke.”
Not these Capitals, and certainly not against punchless Philadelphia.
“It’s a different group. The past is a different regime,” Holtby said. “We are trying to write our own history.”
Crosby and Ovechkin bring the star power.
The Caps are so much more than just their captain.
Ovechkin had an assist on Nicklas Backstrom‘s second-period goal that easily held against the Flyers.
Riding the momentum of Michal Neuvirth in net, the Flyers won two straight to force an unlikely trip home. Neuvirth was sensational again, but the Flyers were ultimately doomed by a power play that could not cash in against Holtby. The Flyers wasted nearly 2 minutes of a 5-on-3 power play in the second period that made a critical difference.
“We sacrificed our body 5-on-3,” Ovechkin said. “We paid the price and we won.”
Holtby, who had a 19-save shutout in Game 1, was barely tested with solid shots the last two games. The Flyers took only 11 shots against him in Game 5 and matched that feeble total midway through the second period, and failed on a two-man edge.
Backstrom’s double minor for a high stick and Matt Niskanen‘s hooking penalty gave the Flyers 1:55 of a 5-on-3. The Flyers missed both shots with a two-man advantage. They later got hit with a penalty to make it 4 on 4 and wipe out the one-man edge.
“We just had to find a way to get a goal on the power play,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.
The Flyers finished 0 for 3 on Sunday, but it’s the 5-on-3 failure that will linger with them into the offseason.
The Capitals’ penalty kill deserved credit, too.
“We watched a lot of their 5-on-3s and knew exactly what they were going to do,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Holtby made some big saves and that was the turning point.”
Backstrom helped Washington break Neuvirth’s shutout streak that stretched 72 straight shots over nearly 110 minutes when he scored on a one-timer just below the circle with 8:59 left in the second period.
“Good pass, unbelievable shot,” Neuvirth said. “I don’t think I could have stopped it.”
The Flyers, who made a late-season surge under rookie coach Dave Hakstol just to reach the playoffs, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1975.