PITTSBURGH - Too bad the Capitals and Penguins dont tangle a few more times this season.
In one of the more entertaining games of the season, Evgeni Malkin scored 1:31 into overtime to give the Penguins a 4-3 win over the Capitals Sunday afternoon in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd at the Consol Energy Center.
Alex Ovechkin had his first three-point game of the season with a goal and two assists, but Malkin would not be denied, scoring the game-winner on a James Neal rebound. Malkin now has six third-period goals and another in overtime during the Penguins six-game win streak.
Asked if the game reminded Ovechkin of some of his knockdown, drag-out games against Sidney Crosby, the Capitals captain was in no mood for comparisons.
It reminds me of nothing, Ovecvhkin said. Its just a hockey game. (Malkin) played great. Hes controlling games right now. He knows that without Crosby this team is good, but not that good and hes handled it very well.
The Capitals rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead, but Malkin set up James Neal for the game-tying goal, then won it in overtime, going from his backhand to his forehand in the blink of an eye.
The guys battled, Caps coach Dale Hunter said. We came back and took the lead. Malkin slips away for a second off the backboards. Hes a good player and good players score goals like that. Another second and Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) would have had it. Hes got quick hands. Real quick.
It was the Penguins first win over the Caps in Pittsburgh since 2008, breaking a winless streak of eight games.
Ovechkin gave the Caps their first lead of the game 68 seconds into the third period when he took a cross-ice feed from Alex Semin and snapped a one-timer past Marc-Andre Fleury for his 20th goal of the season.
The goal completed a three-goal comeback from a 2-0 deficit for the Caps, but Malkin was not about to let the Penguins five-game win streak end without a fight.
Malkin knifed his way through Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks, then muscled Roman Hamrlik off the puck and quickly centered a pass to Neal, who snapped his second goal of the game and 26th of the season past Neuvirth.
Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer came within inches away from winning the game in regulation when his slapshot rang off the far left post with 18 seconds to play in the third period.
Through the first 20 minutes the Caps looked disinterested, discombobulated and perfectly content to return home with their third loss in four games.
The Capitals learned before the game theyd be without top-line center Marcus Johansson, who woke up with flu-like symptoms and was unable to play.
That meant a short-lived stint on the top line for Mathieu Perreault, who began the game centering Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. The Caps had trouble completing any of their passes in the first period and the Pens took advantage early, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the opening 5:52.
Dennis Wideman gave the Pens their first power-play of the game with a careless cross-checking penalty on Chris Kunitz. Eight seconds later Laich won a faceoff back to Roman Hamrlik, but Hamrliks clearing attempt was knocked down by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who fired a rising slapshot through the screen of Kunitz and over Neuvirths catching glove.
Sixty-one seconds later the Pens made it 2-0 when Evgeni Malkin cleanly beat Laich on a draw and James Neal snapped another shot over Neuvirths glove for his 25th goal of the season.
The Caps showed no pushback the rest of the period, managing just four shots, and it looked like a blowout might be in order.
Thats when Ovechkin got into the game physically and emotionally.
The Caps came out with some fire in their eyes in the second period and Ovechkin set the tone with a bone-crushing hit on defenseman Milan Michalek. Mike Knuble followed with a bulrush to the net and voila goals from Laich and Semin followed to make it 2-2.
Hes our captain and when he hits and plays like that he gets everybody going, Hunter said of Ovechkin. We were kind of flat up until that.
There have been times in the last little while weve been unemotional, he said. When were hitting like that playing that way were a lot harder team to handle. We need to play like that every night.
Laichs goal, his ninth of the season, came at the 11:02 mark on a nice feed from Wideman. Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis broke his stick on the play, allowing Wideman time to get the puck to Laich for a one-timer.
With the Pens on their heels the Caps struck again at the 14:38 mark when Semin finished off a rush with Ovechkin and Perreault, calmly backhanding Perreaults rebound inside the right post for his 12th goal of the season.
But this time, the Pens fought back, leaving both teams holding a 2-1-1 season series record and leaving the fans wanting more. Maybe theyll get their wish in April.