PITTSBURGH — One of these years, the Washington Capitals will figure out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.

One of these years, they won't see six months of success wiped out by two frustrating weeks in the spring. One of these years, they will torment their tormentors, dominate those who have dominated them.

But it won't be this year. Just as it wasn't in 1991 and 1992, 1995 and 1996 and 2000, too.

Martin Straka stripped the puck from Sergei Gonchar and lifted a shot over Olaf Kolzig at 13:04 of overtime for a 4-3 Pittsburgh victory Monday night, sending the Penguins to a second-round matchup against Buffalo.

It also sent the Capitals home for the sixth time in seven playoff series against Pittsburgh since 1991. Last year, it was five games, this time it was six — each time with Washington as the higher-seeded team.

"They know what it takes to win in the playoffs," Washington's Steve Konowalchuk said. "They're not going to go away easily."

The defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils, the top seeds in the East, take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

All but the St. Louis-Dallas series begin Thursday night.

The Capitals easily could have collapsed after Mario Lemieux and Robert Lang put Pittsburgh up 2-0 in the first period, allowing the Penguins to go into the defense-first mode that was so successful earlier in the series.

Instead, the Capitals tied it on second-period goals by defenseman Brendan Witt and Jeff Halpern against rookie goalie Johan Hedberg, who shook off the goals to stop 28 of 31 shots.

"He was the difference," Lemieux said. "He won it for us."

The Penguins regained the lead when Alexei Kovalev slammed a long slap shot past Kolzig with one second left in the second period. However, the Capitals, throwing everything they had at Hedberg in the third period, tied it again on defenseman Calle Johansson's goal with only 2:40 remaining.

Right then, it seemed everything was in the Capitals' favor — the momentum, the intangibles, the Penguins' dismal overtime record. They lost five of their previous six overtime playoff games, including that memorable five-overtime game against Philadelphia last spring.

"I never thought we weren't going to win it," Konowalchuk said. "It would have been a very interesting Game 7. I don't think they were looking forward to that."

The Penguins weren't looking forward to overtime, either, having never won a series-deciding overtime playoff game at home. Until now.

"This has to be the biggest goal I've ever scored," Straka said.

Kolzig was surprised to turn around and see the red light on — and an ecstatic Straka sliding around on the ice as the Penguins celebrated.

"I didn't have any problems with breakaways the whole series," Kolzig said. "I figured I could stop that one. It just hit the shaft of my stick. I don't know where it ended up going in the net. I thought I made the save after it hit my stick."

What saved the Penguins was their high-scoring second line, previously quiet in the series. Straka and Lang got their first goals, and Kovalev got his second.

With the Penguins briefly holding a two-man advantage, Kovalev grabbed the puck after a faceoff and slammed a slap shot over Kolzig's shoulder just before the horn sounded to end the second period.

"I looked at the clock before the faceoff and I thought if the puck came to me, to release it right away," Kovalev said. "And that's what happened."

Kolzig predicted the Penguins will prove difficult for Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek to shut down, if only because they have so many skilled scorers — Lemieux, Straka, Lang, Kovalev and, of course, Jaromir Jagr.

"They don't score by accident," he said. "They always seem to find themselves in right place at right time. They're always looking for the puck — and it seems the puck is always looking for them."

What the Capitals aren't looking for is another postseason series against Pittsburgh.

"We'll go back to work in September and try it again," Kolzig said. "And try to get Pittsburgh transferred to the Western Conference."