Pittsburgh Penguins top Washington Capitals, clinch home ice in first round

By Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange  |  April 8, 2016 at 12:55 AM
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WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals will finish the regular season as the NHL points leader.

The most dangerous team as the playoffs approach though might be the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner with 1:00 left in overtime and the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 on Thursday night despite squandering a 3-0 second-period lead.

The Penguins (48-25-8), winners of eight straight and 14 of 15, clinched second-place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

"(The players) have worked real hard over the last two months to put ourselves in the best possible position to reach our ultimate goal, and this is one more checked box that we were able to accomplish, against a very good team," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.

If form holds, Washington and Pittsburgh would meet in the second round.

The Capitals (55-17-8) tied it with two third-period goals.

In overtime, Crosby came on the ice and immediately received a long pass from defenseman Kris Letang. He skated in alone on Braden Holtby, went to his backhand and lifted the puck home for his 36th goal.

"Sometimes you feel like you have too much time on plays like that, too much time to think," Crosby said. "(Letang) made a great pass."

Pittsburgh got two goals from Matt Cullen, his 15th and 16th, and one from Conor Sheary in regulation while Matt Murray made 27 saves in winning his seventh straight decision.

"We don't sink on the bench. We don't get rattled, we just go about our business," Sullivan said of winning despite losing the early lead. "That I think has become an important part of our identity and I think is going to serve our team well moving forward."

Marcus Johansson scored his 16th and 17th, and Andre Burakovsky scored the tying goal with 6:34 left in regulation, and added an assist for Washington.

The Capitals, who locked up home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs last month, have dropped three straight -- for the first time all season -- and five of seven.

"I've got to trust the group that they'll perform," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of his team's ability to return to form in the postseason.

"But I need some guys to start to be productive. We've got some players who haven't done much for us in the last little while and they'll have to figure it out."

Holtby stopped 31 shots and remains one win behind tying Martin Brodeur (48) for the NHL one-season record. Washington has back-to-back games remaining Saturday and Sunday, and Trotz confirmed after the game Holtby will play just one of those contests.

Trailing 3-1, Washington killed off two penalties early in the third and Johansson halved the deficit when his wrist shot from the top of the left circle snuck under Murray's stick arm.

Burakovsky tied it when he deflected a pass from John Carlson (two assists) by Murray with 6:34 left in regulation for his 17th of the season.

"Good comeback, bad result," Washington's Justin Williams said.

It took 44 seconds for the streaking Penguins to take a 1-0 lead as Cullen took a pass from Tom Kuhnhackl on a 3-on-2 rush and beat Holtby to the glove side with a wrist shot from the left circle.

Cullen needed 28 seconds to score a short-handed goal at the beginning of period number two.

Entering the Washington zone 2-on-1, Cullen attempted a backhand pass across to Eric Fehr down low, but the puck deflected off defenseman Matt Niskanen's skate and past Holtby.

Pittsburgh failed to score during a 5-minute boarding major on Washington's Tom Wilson, but made it 3-0 shortly thereafter when Sheary took a pass from Oskar Sundqvist on a 3-on-2 rush and his shot trickled through Holtby's pads.

Washington got on the board with 2:41 left in the period as Johansson, at the far post, one-timed a cross-ice dart from Carlson into the Pittsburgh net for his first goal since Feb. 28.

NOTES: Pittsburgh took the season series 3-2. ... Washington C Nicklas Backstrom (upper-body injury) returned after missing three games. ... Former Capitals C Eric Fehr, who missed Pittsburgh's two previous visits because of injury, returned for the first time as a Penguin. ... The Penguins recalled LW Tom Sestito from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. ... Pittsburgh F Evgeni Malkin (upper body), D Olli Maatta (lower body) and F Bryan Rust (lower body) were ruled out for the final two regular-season games, but G Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) is day to day. RW Beau Bennett was scratched. ... Washington scratches included D Taylor Chorney, D Mike Weber, C Michael Latta and RW Stanislav Galiev.

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