A win over one of the NHL’s top teams might have given the Pittsburgh Penguins what they need to move on from a subpar stretch.
The Penguins will try to put that further into the past by adding to their recent dominance over the Washington Capitals in a home-and-home series beginning Monday night in the nation’s capital.
Pittsburgh (42-17-4) avoided a fifth loss in six games with a 3-2 shootout win over Pacific Division-leading Anaheim on Friday. Evgeni Malkin provided the tying power-play goal with 11:03 left in regulation and Brandon Sutter helped seal the much-needed win by scoring in the sixth round of the shootout.
"I’m glad to get out of here with two points," Sutter said. "It wasn’t easy at all, but I think we earned it at the end. We managed to find a way and battled. (Marc-Andre) Fleury made some big saves for us. Anytime you get a shootout win, you have to tip your hat to him. It’s a great win for us."
Pittsburgh couldn’t hold on to its Eastern Conference lead Sunday after Boston earned its fifth consecutive victory, but the Penguins are just one point behind the Bruins.
They’ll try to reclaim the conference lead with a seventh consecutive win against Washington (30-25-10) and third in a row at the Verizon Center. Pittsburgh posted a 40-18 shot advantage in a 4-0 win there Nov. 20, and rallied for a 4-3 home victory in the most recent matchup with the Capitals on Jan. 15.
Washington star Alex Ovechkin gave his club a one-goal lead with 11:25 remaining in that game but Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta each scored in the next 10 minutes. Maatta’s tiebreaking score came with 1:54 to go.
The Capitals enter this game 10th in the East but just one point behind the two teams above them, Columbus and Detroit. Washington avoided a bigger deficit by ending a three-game skid Saturday with a 3-2 win over visiting Phoenix.
Troy Brouwer capped a three-goal, third-period rally and helped the Capitals improve to 3-0-1 in their last four home games.
"We know that we’re at a point where our season is on the line every single game," Brouwer said. "That should be enough motivation in here and it was tonight."
Newly signed forward Evgeny Kuznetsov is expected to make his debut for the Capitals. The 21-year-old forward, signed to an entry-level contract Saturday, was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2010 and has played five seasons in the KHL.
"Every hockey player wants to play in the NHL and wants to win the (Stanley) Cup," Kuznetsov said. "It’s my dream to play in the NHL."
Pittsburgh has split the first four games on its longest road trip of the season, which wraps up Monday. The teams will meet again in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Sidney Crosby and Malkin each have two goals and nine assists during Pittsburgh’s win streak in the series. James Neal and Chris Kunitz have four goals apiece.
Ovechkin has eight points in those last six matchups (four goals, four assists), but he has one goal and one assist in his last four overall games.