PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins caught fire in the second period and Evgeni Malkin scored his 1000th point in front of his family. The Penguins closed to within four points of the Washington Capitals in the Metro Division and continued their hot streak– 6-1-2 in their last nine games starting with the Stadium Series game versus Philadelphia.
After several near misses, Washington finally found the net and lit the lamp, late in the first period. After an uncharacteristic mistake by Penguins center Sidney Crosby who failed to get the puck deep at the blue line, Washington loaded up on transition. With a 4-on-2 rush, Jakub Vrana (20) whipped a wrist shot over Penguins goalie Matt Murray from the right wing circle.
Then midway through the second period, Murray joined the Penguins sleep-walkathon. From the right wall, Vrana’s (21) long wrist shot bounced off Murray’s shoulder, straight up, and bounced behind Murray, just across the goal line.
It would be Florida acquisition Jared McCann who’d light the Penguins fire. The first of the Penguins three goals in 1:48 was exactly the type of play which sparks a team.
And boy did it.
Jared McCann lifted the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov in the Washington zone and charged to the net. He laid a soft pass across the crease to Jake Guentzel (35) and the Penguins had life.
Prior to the goal, the Penguins had just three shots in the previous 15 minutes, including one power-play shot.
Just 47 seconds later, Sidney Crosby chased Justin Schultz lob-wedge pass which landed neatly inside the Washington zone. Crosby (32) had a breakaway goal as Washington goalie Braden Holtby went for a cross-check, not a poke check, as a matter of defense.
Crosby tucked the puck between Holtby’s pads, then converted another chance one minute later. After Nicklas Backstrom gave the Penguins a power play by tripping Evgeni Malkin, Crosby (33) snapped a one-timer past a scrambling Holtby.
Malkin earned the second assist on the goal for his 999th career point.
In the blink of an eye, McCann’s spark had become an inferno.
The Penguins crowd further roared its approval when the Penguins earned a 4-2 lead and Malkin scored his 1000th point, midway through the third period. With Alex Ovechkin in the penalty box serving the Washington too many men penalty, the Penguins power play executed one of their tic-tac-toe plays.
Phil Kessel (23) finished it, but Malkin earned another assist. The scoreboard caught tears in the eyes of Malkin’s father, as the PPG Paints Arena crowd chanted “Geno”.
The Penguins didn’t escape without a few close calls. Washington defenseman John Carlson (11) crept near the crease and pounced on an Ovechkin rebound.
McCann added an empty netter to make it 5-3, his 18th goal of the season.