The Pittsburgh Penguins are now finding many different ways to win.
After the Penguins gave up a 3-0 lead, captain Sidney Crosby silenced the relentless Capitals with a game-winning goal in overtime to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 win in the nation’s capital on Thursday night. Ever since their bland loss to the New Jersey Devils two weeks ago, the Penguins have won eight straight games.
Thursday’s win also secured second place in the Metropolitan Division for Pittsburgh, which means the Penguins will have home-ice advantage in the first round against either the Islanders or Rangers.
Pittsburgh made an early opening statement against the Capitals, the Presidents’ Trophy Champion winners, when, just 44 seconds into the game, Matt Cullen ripped his 15th goal of the season past Washington goalie Braden Holtby to make it a 1-0 game. Cullen was set up by a by a brilliant backhand pass from Tom Kuhnhackl, who faked out Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt.
And just when Washington thought they had seen the last of Cullen, he burned them again just 28 seconds into the second period.
On that goal, Cullen and former Capital Eric Fehr created a shorthanded 2-on-1 breakaway thanks to a great play in the Penguins’ zone by Ben Lovejoy. Cullen attempted to pass to Fehr, but his pass ended up going off of former Penguin Matt Niskanen’s skate and into the net. Cullen now has 10 points in his last 10 games.
After the Pens could not cash in on a five-minute major penalty, leftwinger Conor Sheary took matters into his own hands, extending the lead to 3-0 on his seventh goal of the season. The undersized Sheary took a beating for most of the game, but he held strong all night.
The Capitals finally got on the board late in the second period thanks to a goal from leftwinger Marcus Johansson that seemed innocent at first with the cushion the Penguins had created. Little did they know, that goal would turn the game into a classic.
Johansson burned Penguins goaltender Matt Murray again 10 minutes into the third period to make it a one-goal game, and Washington’s Andre Burakovsky tied the game less than three minutes later.
The Penguins could have folded after those back-breaking goals, but these are not the Penguins of old. In overtime, Pittsburgh ran out an assortment of line combinations that set Crosby up for the game-winner.
Sidney Crosby has a knack for coming up clutch when the Penguins need him. This season, the Captain has scored nine game-winning goals, which is tied for second in the NHL (behind San Jose’s Joe Pavelski). Crosby has also played one of his best two-way seasons, which has drawn praise from legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who holds the record for most wins in the league’s history. The other day, Bowman was quoted the other day saying Crosby deserves consideration for the Selke Trophy, the award for the league’s best forward who also excels on defense.
Thursday’s win was not just the eighth-straight win for the Penguins; it was also their eighth-straight road victory. Since losing in Washington on March 1st, the Pittsburgh has won nine of its last 10 road games. These gritty road victories set the Penguins up perfectly for a scenario where meet Washington in the playoffs, where the Capitals would have home-ice advantage.
Pittsburgh will conclude its regular season in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. After being swept last season by the Flyers, the Penguins will have a chance to return the favor while possibly delivering a final dagger to the Flyers’ playoff hopes.
Image credit: jpellgen/Creative Commons