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Capitals Can’t Complete Comeback vs. Penguins; Playoffs Remote

PITTSBURGH — The emotional turmoil was palpable in this one. The Washington Capitals, really up against it in the chase for a pla…



PITTSBURGH — The emotional turmoil was palpable in this one. The Washington Capitals, really up against it in the chase for a playoff spot, came roaring back from a three-goal, third period deficit Saturday against rival Pittsburgh — only to have Evgeni Malkin win it for the Penguins with 80 seconds left in regulation, 4-3. 

The Capitals (34-32-8, 76 points) could not take advantage of Florida losing earlier Saturday or their comeback at PPG Paints Arena, and that left them still sitting three points behind the Panthers and six points behind the Penguins, who hold the second Eastern Conference wildcard spot just one point behind the New York Islanders. The Capitals have the same number of points as Buffalo, but the Sabres have two games in hand on the Capitals.

If all of that is a little hard to follow, think of it this way: With just eight games left, the Capitals are probably cooked, and if they miss the postseason by a slim margin, they will surely look back at Saturday’s game with thoughts of what might have been. 

Pittsburgh held a 3-0 lead early in the third before Dylan Strome, Tom Wilson, and Alex Ovechkin tied it. But 1:24 after Ovechkin scored, Malkin notched the winner when he stole the puck from Anthony Mantha in the neutral zone, moved in on a breakaway, and sent a shot past goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s blocker. Kuemper made 36 saves. 

According to photos Malkin posted on social media, he and his family hosted Ovechkin and the Capitals’ other Russian players for dinner Friday night. If only the guys around that table then knew how things would unfold the next evening. 

Malkin and goaltender Casey DeSmith (31 saves and huge stops on John Carlson off a two-on-one and on Ovechkin on a breakaway) were the villains for the opposition, but Capitals defenseman Rasmus Sandin didn’t do his team any favors. He was left scrambling on two of Pittsburgh’s goals and got fairly well ragdolled in a fight with Penguins forward Josh Archibald. 

DeSmith’s big save on Carlson, which sparked a standing ovation at PPG Paints Arena, came while the game was scoreless. 

Shortly after that, at 10:10 of the second, Ryan Poehling gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. He forced a turnover in his own end, then took a pass from Danton Heinen while racing through the neutral zone. Poehling sped slightly past Sandin for a quasi-breakaway and flipped the puck over Kuemper’s glove. 

Chad Ruhwedel, a defensive defenseman who had not scored this season, upped it to 2-0 at 12:17 of the second. He took a feed from Jason Zucker near center ice, moved across the blue line, and avoided Sandin to shoot the puck over Kuemper’s glove from the inner edge of the right circle. 

With 2:57 left in the second, Archibald and Sandin fought. 

Less than a minute later, DeSmith made a left pad save on an Ovechkin breakaway. 

On a power play that carried over from late in the second when Nicklas Backstrom slashed Mikael Granlund, Guentzel got behind everyone for a breakaway and slipped the puck under Keumper’s pads for a 3-0 Penguins lead 27 seconds into the third. 

Wilson cut it to 3-1 with a wraparound goal during four-on-four play at 5:19 of the third. 

On a power play at 13:18 of the third, Ovechkin sliced it to 3-2 with a bomb of a one-timer from the top of the left circle off a feed from Carlson, who played in his second game back after recovering from a skull fracture. 

It was a classic Ovechkin goal and his 299th on the power play. 

Strome tied it with 2:44 left in regulation on a third rebound with DeSmith scrambling and out of position, but the Capitals’ celebration – and most likely their playoff hopes – were quickly dashed.

*Shelly Anderson submitted this report.

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