PITTSBURGH (AP) – Phil Kessel scored twice and picked up assist, Evgeni Malkin added two goals and two assists, and the surging Pittsburgh Penguins rolled past the Washington Capitals 7-4 on Friday night.
Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who won their fourth straight to pull within four points of first-place Washington in the crowded Metropolitan Division. Sidney Crosby had two assists to push his scoring streak to 11 games, the longest active streak in the NHL.
Matt Murray stopped 29 shots for Pittsburgh, which won its seventh consecutive home game by jumping on the Capitals early then pulling away late.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice to push his season total to an NHL-best 32 and Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetzov also scored for the Capitals, but Washington couldn’t keep pace with the Penguins. Braden Holtby finished with 27 saves but gave up three goals in the opening 8 minutes of the third period before being pulled in favor of Phillpp Grubauer as Pittsburgh broke open a tight game.
The Penguins came in rolling, ripping off an NHL-high nine wins in January to climb from 10th in the Eastern Conference to within striking distance of the division-leading Capitals with still two months to go before the postseason.
The prospect of another potential playoff showdown looms for the longtime rivals, even if the rivalry tends to be one-sided when they meet in the spring, when the series usually ends with the Penguins skating on to the next round and Washington left to wonder how it let it get away once again.
Pittsburgh never trailed and never wavered after the Capitals erased 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits. Kuznetzov tied it at 3 when he flipped a bouncing puck in the slot by Murray 11:57 into the second to give Washington a shot at picking up its seventh victory this season in a game in which it trailed by at least two goals.
Not this time. Malkin put in his own rebound 1:01 into the third to put the Penguins back in front. Ovechkin evened it just 49 seconds later after a slick cross-ice feed from Kuznetzov, but Pittsburgh simply kept on coming.
Rust picked up his third goal in his last two games to put the Penguins ahead to stay, Kessel followed with his second of the night and 23rd of the season to chase Holtby. Malkin finished the outburst with his team-leading 28th of the season, 14 of which have come since Jan. 1.
NOTES: Pittsburgh F Carter Rowney played 9:05 in his return after missing a month with an upper-body injury. … The Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel, D Matt Hunwick and injured F Conor Sheary (lower-body). … Washington scratched D Taylor Chorney and F Jakub Vrana. … Pittsburgh went 3 for 4 on the power play. The Capitals were 0 for 3 with the man advantage.
Capitals: Host Las Vegas on Sunday.
Penguins: Play at New Jersey on Saturday.
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