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Caps stretch lead over Pens

ALEX Ovechkin scored his first playoff hat-trick to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday and a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Ovechkin's haul included two goals within a three-minute span in the third period that enabled the Capitals to open a winning 4-2 lead with less than five minutes remaining.

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who also bagged a hat-trick, forced the puck home with 31 seconds remaining to add a little late drama to proceedings but the Penguins were unable to halt the Capitals' five-game playoff winning streak.

The series has been billed as a duel between Ovechkin and Crosby, arguably the NHL's two best players, and they put on a show for the 18,277 spectators crammed into a sold-out Verizon Center.

"It's great for our sport," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters of the Ovechkin-Crosby match-up.

"When you have hype of superstars playing against each other and then the superstars play like superstars it's a neat thing."

"Not too many people can do what they did tonight."

Crosby also recorded is first playoff hat-trick but was in no mood to celebrate.

"It was nice to score but it's better to win," he told reporters softly. "Obviously, I'm disappointed we lost and we'll move on."

Two Crosby goals sandwiched around an Ovechkin score had given the Penguins a 2-1 second-period lead, but center David Steckel scored for the Capitals late in the frame to set the stage for his Russian team mate.

Ovechkin fired a one-timer from the left-wing circle with seven minutes left and with 4:38 to play, blasted a slap shot from between the circles that flew past stunned Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

The teams head to Pittsburgh for Game 3 today, where the Penguins will be desperate to get back into the contest with a win in front of their home fans.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said his team "has responded in tough times" this year.

"We didn't get a game here and we're going back home for two in our building so the good news is it should be pretty clear about what we need to get better at," he said.

"We have a belief that we can win hockey games if we play the right way."

Although they're in a two-game hole, historians of the Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry will say the Penguins have the Capitals right where they want them. From 1991-2001, the Capitals lost five series in which they led the Penguins, including 2-0 leads in 1992 and 1996.

Evgeni Malkin, who won the league's regular-season points title, failed to score a goal for the fifth straight game and committed the penalty that turned the momentum. At the very second the Capitals finished killing a penalty in the third period, Malkin was whistled for tripping with 7:11 remaining.


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