While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 6, a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 23 that featured lots of lead changes, a little bit of revenge for Carl Hagelin and a welcome-to-Washington moment for the newest Capital.
It was a classic Capitals-Penguins game that felt like it should have been played in May. Jakub Vrana got the scoring started by showing off his speed. Off a defensive-zone draw, Vrana grabbed the puck and raced past both Penguins defensemen. Matt Murray made the blocker save as Vrana flew by the crease. The rebound was knocked into the net by defenseman Marcus Pettersson who was scrambling to recover.
The second period belonged to Pittsburgh. Patric Hornqvist got his typical dirty goal by scoring off a deflection in front of Braden Holtby. Sidney Crosby gave the Penguins the lead just 26 seconds later with an almost identical goal as the one from Vrana. Crosby crashed the net, had his shot stopped, but the puck bounced in off a sliding T.J. Oshie.
Tom Wilson brought the Caps even early in the third. Wilson swiped the puck from Pettersson in the neutral zone which resulted in a breakaway. He slipped a backhand past Murray for his 20th goal of the season.
Great pressure from the Capitals resulted in their next goal. John Carlson’s shot from the blue line was denied, as was Lars Eller’s follow up in front of Murray. But former Penguin Carl Hagelin got the third attempt into the net as Washington regained the lead.
Evgeni Malkin tied the game again at the 8:50 mark of the period by deking Carlson in open ice. Malkin threw the puck through Carlson’s legs, got it back on his stick, then beat Holtby clean. It took less than two minutes for the Caps to respond. Oshie had a couple of chances from the side of the cage before poking home one of his rebounds.
Hagelin would score his second of the afternoon on an empty-netter to give the Capitals a 5-3 win.
It was Brenden Dillon’s third game with Washington after being acquired in a trade on February 18. How do you become an instant fan favorite? By getting into a fight with Malkin. With an official between them, Malkin and Dillon exchanged punches. As soon as the ref got out of the way, Malkin went into a shell.
WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT
Beating the Penguins is always important. This game had more added weight because of the standings. The two teams entered the afternoon tied on top of the Metro. Washington was able to regain the lead in the division.
The two points were even more significant because the Capitals came into the game riding a season-high four-game losing streak. Three of those four losses were to teams that are currently outside of the playoffs looking in. It was probably the worst stretch of the Capitals’ season. So it was not just a vital win against their biggest rival, it was a much needed slump buster that allowed the Caps to keep the Metro lead.
WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT
Look, nothing against Crosby. He scored a goal and had a strong game overall. He’s undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation. But you see why Capitals fans don’t exactly like the guy.
Lost in the eight goals and the Dillon-Malkin fight was a milestone for Carlson. His assist on Hagelin’s first goal was the 475th point of his career. He surpassed Calle Johansson for most points by a defenseman in franchise history.
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