Pittsburgh Penguins Beat the Best in Washington Capitals

Mar 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) takes the ice against the Washington Capitals during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) takes the ice against the Washington Capitals during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Penguins are quite possibly the hottest team in the NHL right now, coming off of five consecutive wins. The Washington Capitals hold the best record in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. This Sunday evening tilt was set up to be quite the battle of titans.

Playing at home in the Consol Energy Center, wearing their third jerseys, the Penguins were looking for their sixth consecutive win. They’ve been strong in their familiar confines of late, going 14-3-2 in their last 19 games in the ‘Burgh.

The Capitals are a strong team no matter where they play. Away from D.C. this season, they put up a 23-8-3 mark prior to tonight’s contest.

As they have been wont to do this season, the Capitals gave up the lead early. Coming out of their zone on a 3-on-2 rush, the Penguins made a phenomenal play to start the scoring. Tom Kuhnhackl made a spinning pass across ice to Bryan Rust who skated in front of a prone Braden Holtby and tucked the puck in between the pipe and Holtby’s skate.

Just over a minute later, the Pens were hard on the forecheck, which has been successful for them of late. Sure enough, they poked the puck free and Crosby made a sweet backhand pass in the middle of the zone to a charging Trevor Daley. Daley kicked the puck, took it backhanded and snuck it through a miniscule opening to beat Holtby glove-side. That’s the way period two would conclude on the scoreboard, with the Pens leading 2-0.

The Caps started their comeback in the second stanza with what can only be described as a fluke-of-a-goal. With Jason Chimera charging into the Pens zone while being checked, Marc-Andre Fleury made one of his signature poke-checks which usually work so well. In this case, the puck shot up in the air and hit Chimera’s helmet. The puck took an unlucky carom past Fleury and into the Pens’ net. The refs reviewed it, but it was clearly a goal.

About mid-way through the period things started to get chippy. These two teams are far from best of friends. And as the playoffs approach and tension ratchets up like a slingshot, it was no surprise to see what was coming. First, Mike Weber and Bryan Rust got tangled near Holtby and somehow both wound up literally in the Capitals’ net. Mike Weber wound up with a double-minor while Rust got two for roughing. No goals would ensue.

Then, as Patric Hornqvist tried to poke-check the puck from Braden Holtby, the Caps took exception to the aggression. That would turn into a rugby match with punching. Hornqvist got called for a slash and roughing. Karl Azner got roughing as did T.J. Oshie who thought he’d take a few swings at the best player in the league.

After the scrums were cleared by the refs, Washington got back on the board. Jay Beagle sent a pass across the neutral zone to a streaking Andre Burakovsky. M-A Fleury had no chance. Burakovsky sent a screaming wrist shot past the Pens’ netminder to tie the game.

Capitals Penguins
Mar 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) skates with the puck ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Pens were hot, and they had every right to be, it didn’t affect their composure. Tom Kuhnhackl, who had a spectacular assist earlier in the game, this time put one into the net himself. Making the play happen, once again by successful forechecking, Kuhnhackl took the puck and got it to Matt Cullen. Cullen fed the puck back to Kuhnhackl who sent a snap shot right past Holtby to give the Pens the lead once more, 3-2.

With the game starting to take on a playoff-type atmosphere, the third period was underway. Both teams were urgently trying to get another puck into the net. The Pens would see success first as Matt Cullen took a feed from Tom Kuhnhackl, and leading the charge while being checked from behind, beat Holtby to give the Pens a two-goal lead.

The Pens lead would be stretched to three by Chris Kunitz. As Sidney Crosby picked up his 45th assist and Kris Letang picked up his 41st helper of the season, Kunitz scored goal number 16 on the season. Crosby made a sweet backhand feed to Kunitz in the slot who guided the puck past Holtby.

Bryan Rust absorbed a dangerous hit from behind by Mike Weber midway through the third. The Pens, of course, took objection to the hit, and wound up getting some penalty time of their own. Weber was called for boarding and given a game misconduct. Kuhnhackl, who seemed to be everywhere this game, earned a roughing penalty and was given a misconduct as well.

A few minutes later, Just Schultz, who dinged the post earlier in the period, this time found the twine as he extended the Pens lead to a hefty four goals. That would be the final goal of the game, as the Pens held on to their four goal lead, and prevent any comeback by Washington.

This game certainly had the look and feel of a playoff game. Considering the Capitals have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and that this was the sixth win in a row for the Pens, it was a monumental victory for Pittsburgh. As the month of March moves along, the Pens continue to pick up steam. They are playing as a team and prevailing in the games they must win. We can only hope this game is a harbinger of a long playoff run for the Penguins.