PITTSBURGH (AP) – Rookie Tom Kuhnhackl had a goal and two assists on his way to a career-best three points and the Pittsburgh Penguins denied the Washington Capitals a chance to lock up the Metropolitan Division with a dominant 6-2 win on Sunday night.
Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Justin Schultz, Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust also scored for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby picked up two assists to push his scoring streak to 12 games as the Penguins won their sixth straight. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 16 shots to move past the New York Rangers – by virtue of a tiebreaker – and into second place behind Washington in the Metropolitan.
The Capitals could have clinched the franchise’s ninth division title with a win but instead gave up a season-high six goals. Braden Holtby finished with 21 saves before being pulled in the third. Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky scored for Washington.
The Capitals appeared intent on burying the Penguins early, creating constant pressure during the free-flowing opening minutes. Pittsburgh, however, steadied itself behind Fleury and then responded with two electrifying goals in an 86-second span to take control.
Rust, whose speed has helped invigorate the Penguins’ third line, finished off a pretty sequence that included a deft pass from Ian Cole at the point to Tom Kuhnhackl in the slot. Kuhnhackl spun around and slipped the puck to Rust, who walked in alone on Holtby and easily beat the sprawled goaltender 8:33 into the first.
Daley doubled Pittsburgh’s lead at 9:59, diving in from the point and kicking Crosby’s feed off his own skate and onto his stick before a nasty backhand that beat Holtby to the short side.
The Capitals, whose resiliency has been the backbone of perhaps the greatest season in the franchise’s 41-year history, rallied to tie it in the second. Chimera’s 18th of the season came without the benefit of the puck hitting his stick. Or his leg. Or his arm. Instead it clanked off his white helmet and into the Pittsburgh net following a botched clear by Fleury to make it 2-1. Burakovsky evened it at 2 with a breakaway wrist shot over Fleury’s glove with 4:48 left in the second.
Washington’s momentum didn’t last.
It took all of 42 seconds for the Penguins to jump back in front. Kuhnhackl sent Capitals’ forward Justin Williams tumbling to the ice, then collected a pass from Cullen and slammed it by Holtby to make it 3-2. The Penguins then improved to 33-0-0 when leading after two by burying Washington in the final 20 minutes.
Barely 24 hours removed from an impressive win at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh kept it going by scoring three times in the final period. Cullen’s wrist shot trickled over Holtby’s back and into the net to push it to 4-2. Kunitz’s one-timer chased Holtby 7:18 into the third and Schultz added his first with the Penguins since arriving in a trade last month.