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It’s Starting to Get Real; Penguins Beat Washington, 4-1



The Pittsburgh Penguins still don’t control their playoff fate.

The actually could win their remaining six games and not qualify for postseason play.

Then again, after putting together a three-game winning streak that includes a 4-1 victory against Washington at Capital One Arena Thursday evening, the Penguins (35-30-11) might be able to absorb a loss or two and still get in.

That seemed inconceivable after their come-from-ahead shootout loss in Columbus last Saturday, but thanks in part to some consistently strong goaltending by Alex Nedeljkovic, they appear to have at least a puncher’s chance of returning to the playoffs.

And, quite possibly, a considerably better one than that.

Nedeljkovic, who tied his career-high by making his seventh consecutive start, stopped 30 of 31 shots.

The Penguins are two points behind the New York Islanders, whose 4-2 victory in Columbus allowed them to hurdle the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division, and Philadelphia, who are tied for third place in the Metro and the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins, Islanders and Flyers each have six games remaining; the Penguins’ regular-season finale will be April 17 on Long Island.

The Penguins grabbed an early lead for the second time in three games, when Ryan Shea tossed a wrist shot from the left point through traffic and past Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren. Assists on the goal, Shea’s first in 25 career NHL games, went to Reilly Smith and Lars Eller.

The Penguins didn’t get another shot on goal until 11:03, but that one ended up behind Lindgren, too.

P.O Joseph got it, his second of the season, on a shot from the left point that appeared to deflect off the skate of Washington defenseman Nick Jensen. Kris Letang and Drew O’Connor got the assists.

Shot No. 3 came just 17 seconds later, and had the potential to be the more dangerous than the two before it, because Michael Bunting got it on a breakaway. Lindgren, though, was able to glove it.

The Penguins, who had allowed just one power-play goal in the previous six games, killed a tripping minor assessed to Jesse Puljujarvi at 13:14, holding the Capitals without a shot during those two minutes.

Letang added an exclamation point to a productive, if not overly impressive, period for the Penguins by dropping Tom Wilson, the rugged Capitals winger who was playing his first game after serving a six-game suspension, with a solid shoulder check at 16:20.

The Penguins had another strong penalty-kill early in the second period, limiting Washington to one shot after Erik Karlsson was sent off for hooking at 5:35.

Bunting made it 3-0 at 9:08, as he pulled in a long pass from Valtteri Puustinen and drove a slap shot past Lindgren from the top of the right circle for his 17th of the season, including four in 14 games since being acquired from Carolina in the Jake Guentzel trade.

Karlsson picked up the second assist by feeding the puck to Puustinen, who was near the blue line, from behind the goal line.

The Penguins received their first chance with the man-advantage when Wilson was called for slashing at 10:08, but were unable to score.

Karlsson was penalized for holding Wilson at 3:55 of the third, and Letang picked up a minor for tripping Alex Ovechkin seven seconds later, giving the Capitals an extended 5-on-3 power play.

Although the Penguins did an outstanding job of surviving that two-man disadvantage — Bryan Rust actually had a breakaway during the 5-on-3 — Alex Ovechkin rapped a Sonny Milano feed past Nedeljkovic from the left side of the crease at 6:02 to get Washington within two.

That’s the closest the Capitals would get.

Washington replaced Lindgren with an extra attacker with 3:20 to go in regulation, and Eller sealed the victory by scoring into the empty net at 17:23 to make it 4-1.

The goal was his 400th point in the NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Friday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.