WASHINGTON — This game was always destined to go past regulation. The Capitals squared off with their division rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday with the two teams tied for the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. After a back-and-forth affair that needed a shootout to determine a winner, the Capitals clinched the victory on their final shot.
Momentum shifted with each intermission. The Capitals put together a strong first period, scoring one goal but setting a new season high with 22 shots. In the second, the Penguins evened up the score and dominated puck possession. The third period then saw both teams fight to gain the upper hand, trading goals to force overtime.
However, after an eventful overtime period that saw the two teams finish out with more than two minutes of 4-on-4 action, the Capitals won with a shootout that went three rounds. Right wing Rickard Rakell scored the first goal to give Pittsburgh the advantage through one round, but Evgeny Kuznetsov knotted it up in the second before Nicklas Backstrom finished them off.
Both teams were without key players in the contest. Tom Wilson missed the game for the Capitals after exiting Tuesday’ loss to the Colorado Avalanche with a lower-body injury. Starting Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry was ruled out through the All-Star Break, leaving backup Casey DeSmith as Pittsburgh’s primary option in net.
DeSmith held his own for the Penguins, stopping 43 of 45 shots as the Capitals tied their third-highest shooting output of the season. He matched Darcy Kuemper, who got the win by making 36 saves across 65 minutes of play.
The Capitals entered the contest on a 1-for-22 skid in power-play chances over their last nine games, but they finally broke through in their first opportunity. Kuznetsov found Alex Ovechkin wide open in his office and he beat DeSmith to give Washington the early lead.
In true Capitals-Penguins fashion, the two teams exchanged big hits early to set up a physical evening. Anthony Mantha and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang tried to drop the gloves and fight in the third, but officials broke it up.
With the win, the Capitals took over sole possession of the first Wild Card spot in the East at 26-19-6 (58 points). They’ll have two days of practice before facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, kicking off a three-game road trip that will take them to the All-Star Break.