PITTSBURGH - Alex Ovechkin disappeared, at least as much as the game's
most dominant scorer can, and so did all the magic Simeon Varlamov was

Suddenly, the Washington Capitals are in a familiar
position against rival Pittsburgh, losing their grip on a playoff
series that seemed to be theirs. The Penguins shook off an
opening-minute Washington goal, scored three times in less than 12
minutes in the first period against a suddenly vulnerable Varlamov and
beat the Capitals 5-3 Friday night to even the Eastern Conference
semifinal at 2.


The Capitals won't get much time to try to regain
any confidence they lost up by losing twice in Pittsburgh, not with
Game 5 in Washington on Saturday night.

"We're right back in it and we have momentum on our
side and we'll try to keep it going," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre
Fleury, who made 19 saves.

Washington scored one-goal victories at home in each
of the first two games as Ovechkin scored a combined four goals, but he
was shut out on two shots while being constantly shadowed by defenseman
Rob Scuderi.

Penguins star Sidney Crosby had his playoffs-leading ninth goal and an assist.

"They were desperate down here," Capitals coach Bruce
Boudreau said. "Alex is only human, he can't be unbelievable every
night. He's a great player, he just had one of those nights where he's
not going to get three goals."

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is unhappy at playing
twice in two nights in two cities, all because of a Yanni concert in
Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

He may be even more concerned with the Capitals'
first major letdown in the series, an opening period in which
Washington's one-goal lead quickly became a two-goal deficit as Sergei
Gonchar, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko scored.

Now, the Penguins again could do what they did
against the Capitals in 1992 and 1996 by rallying to win after being
down 2-0 in a series.

"We said we've got to get two at home and now we've got to try to get one on the road," Scuderi said.

Pittsburgh has a major worry, though, as Gonchar was
helped off the ice late in the first period after absorbing a
knee-on-knee hit from Ovechkin.

There was no immediate word about the injury, or how
long it would sideline the Penguins' most experienced defenseman, who
missed three-quarters of the regular season with a shoulder injury.

"I mean, you can run guys, guys are fair game, but
the guy (Ovechkin) takes strides every time and leaves his feet a lot
of times, too," defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "To us, we got the
feeling he's really trying to hurt guys at times."

Ovechkin denied during a post-game talk with
Penguins star Evgeni Malkin's father that the hit on his former Russian
Olympic teammate was dirty.

"Yeah, it probably was knee on knee - I tried to hit
him with my shoulder and he just moved left (into) the same spot,"
Ovechkin said.

Asked if he's worried about a fine or suspension,
Ovechkin said, "I don't know what's going to happen, but I didn't want
to hit him. I wanted to hit him, but I don't want hurt him, especially
knee on knee."

Varlamov came in with a 1.64 goals-against average
despite having only six games of NHL experience, but could be seen
shaking his head at his inability to stop not-difficult shots.

Varlamov, arguably the best player on the ice while
making 39 saves during Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime win in Game 3,
probably couldn't be blamed for Guerin's go-ahead goal on a rebound of
Crosby's in-close forehander midway through the period.

But the 21-year-old goalie had a good look on
Gonchar's tying goal from close to the blue line, which came slightly
more than 3 minutes after Washington's Nicklas Backstrom scored with 36
seconds gone.

Maybe that was a bad omen for the Capitals, since the team scoring first has lost all four games in the series.

A much-worse omen came when Sergei Fedorov couldn't
score on two excellent scoring chances not long after Gonchar's goal,
and Varlamov began looking shaky.

He was beaten on a seemingly harmless 50-foot wrist
shot that Fedotenko was trying to throw on net at 15:25 of the first,
making it 3-1.

"There were four soft goals out of the five," Boudreau said. "But he'll bounce back. He's a real competitive guy."

The Capitals twice came back from two-goal deficits
on goals by Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina, with Jurcina scoring
short-handed. But the Penguins answered as Crosby and Max Talbot each
scored in the third period. Crosby has nine playoff goals, one more
than Ovechkin.

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