Two nights after nearly stealing Game 3 for the Capitals, Simeon Varlamov wasn't quite the same in Game 4, allowing a couple of soft goals in a 5-3 loss to the Penguins that allowed Pittsburgh to square their series at two games apiece.
The Pens built a 3-1 lead in the first period - with Ruslan Fedetenko beating Varlamov with a stoppable shot that deflected off his glove - and were able to hold off the Caps at home, twice answering goals that brought Washington to within one.
Now, with the series heading back to Verizon Center for a quick stop before heading back to Pittsburgh on Monday with Saturday's winner getting a chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
For the second straight game, the Capitals struck early, as Nicklas Backstrom scored on a long blast just :36 in on Marc-Andre Fleury giving Washington a 1-0 edge. However, a penalty just over a minute later by Chris Clark - his fourth minor in four games - gave the Pens a chance to even the score.
While Washington killed off most of the power-play, Sergei Gonchar moved in the Caps' zone and wound up and beat Varlamov with 3:55 gone to even the game.
The Pens then got the go-ahead goal just under six minutes later, as while Varlamov made a nice save to deny Sidney Crosby in close, the puck landed in front of the fallen netminder, and Bill Guerin shot it in with 9:13 left in the first period.
Then, with the Caps getting their power play when Brooks Orpik was whistled for holding the stick, Alex Ovechkin collided knee-on-knee with Gonchar, leaving the ex-Capitals defenseman writhing on the ice and earning Ovechkin a tripping minor.
On the ensuing 4-on-4, Ruslan Fedetenko wound up from a similar spot to where Gonchar scored and beat Varlamov with a shot that the Russian got a piece of with his glove - but not enough - and the Penguins had their first two-goal lead of the series with 4:35 left in the frame.
From that point on, the Caps tried to climb closer, and while they were able to pull to within one twice, they couldn't draw even.
A strange second period followed in which the Caps and Penguins combined for nine shots - and none by Pittsburgh in the final 14 minutes of the frame - but the only goal belonged to Clark. After Mike Green moved in and hit the post behind Fleury, the puck landed in the crease behind Fleury, and Clark tipped the puck in to bring the Capitals within one with 4:52 left in the period.
The Caps then got a power play with 1:27 left in the frame, but couldn't take advantage and remained down by one after 40 minutes.
Pittsburgh then restored the two-goal edge when Green got caught down deep in the Penguins zone four minutes into the third, leading to a two-on-one with Miroslav Satan and Crosby breaking in on John Erskine. Satan threaded a pass to Crosby through Erskine's legs, and the Pens' star tapped it in for a 4-2 edge with 4:16 gone in the period.
Erskine then took a penalty :14 later, but while the Pens had a golden chance to bury the Caps then, Milan Jurcina was able to fire a puck through traffic to notch a short-handed tally just 2:07 after Crosby's goal and bring the Capitals within one.
Washington pressed a bit for the tally, but began to give up a couple of odd-man breaks, and Maxime Talbot sealed the deal with 5:14 left to play by beating Varlamov while being driven wide.
Despite being down a goal heading into the period, the Capitals were outshot 11-7 in the third period, totalling just 22 on the evening and not generating many good chances against Fleury. They also were outscored in the final frame for the first time in eight games against the Penguins this season - and also givng up two goals in the last period for the first time this season.
The Caps won't have long to reflect on the loss, as the two teams will hit the ice tomorrow night in Washington with a pivotal Game 5.