Penguins find new life, Capitals fading in the heat of playoff chase

It’s a rivalry. It’s a showdown. It’s a game to watch Thursday when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals.

Not only is it a matchup of superstars Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, but it is also a game with implications for the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

Washington (36-28-10, 82 points) holds the second wild-card spot in the East, with the Penguins (34-30-11, 79) three points back, with two teams between them.

The Capitals not only are trying to hold off a charge from teams trying to overtake them for a playoff spot, but they also have a shot at catching Philadelphia for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington is one point behind the Flyers with two games in hand.

However, the Capitals have not looked like a team ready to lock down anything lately. They have lost three straight games (0-2-1), including a 6-2 setback Tuesday at Buffalo, another team in the playoff chase in the East.

Buffalo scored three unanswered goals in the third, leaving the Capitals frustrated.

“(We) would like to get some ground (in the playoff race),” said Washington forward Dylan Strome, who scored against the Sabres. “But it is what it is.”

Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said it’s no secret what his team faces with eight games remaining.

“At this point in the year, we know how we need to play to have success,” he said. “It’s not like we’re not confident in what we need to do or understand what we need to do. We’ll just turn the page and do that.”

Ovechkin is second on the team in points (59) to Strome (62) and tied with Strome for most goals (26).

The 38-year-old Ovechkin has no goals in the past four games following a five-game goal streak during which he scored eight times. He had an assist against Buffalo.

Crosby and the Penguins, in contrast, have surged from barely hanging on to playoff hopes to getting themselves back in the thick of things.

Pittsburgh has a six-game points streak (4-0-2) and is coming off crucial road wins on back-to-back nights, Monday against the New York Rangers and Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.

“I think our guys are excited because we’re playing meaningful hockey,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re trying to give ourselves a chance. We’re trying to stay in the fight.

“As I’ve said to them, ‘Anything can happen. Let’s focus on the one game in front of us. Let’s try to take care of business each and every night, and see where it goes.'”

Pittsburgh found itself trailing Tuesday by two goals in the third against the Devils before reeling off five straight for a 6-3 win.

Crosby, who at age 36 leads Pittsburgh with 39 goals and 84 points, and fellow star center Evgeni Malkin, 37, each had two goals in that third-period surge.

“We’re still in this fight,” Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “We have a huge game coming up against a team that we’re chasing.”

–Field Level Media