WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin scored his 32nd goal of the season, Nicklas Backstrom had the shootout winner and the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Thursday night in a matchup of rivals jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Capitals snapped a two-game skid and handed the Penguins a fifth loss in eight games. But Pittsburgh extended its point streak to six, trails Washington by just a single point in the standings and has three additional games left on its schedule.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Backstrom scored in the shootout long after Ovechkin reached 812 goals in his NHL career and Marcus Johansson put the Capitals ahead early in the third period. Darcy Kuemper ended it by denying Evgeni Malkin in the third round of the shootout.
The Penguins played past regulation for the fifth time in six games thanks to Bryan Rust’s tying goal with 7:08 left in the third period.
Casey DeSmith kept them in it with a sharp performance in place of injured No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry. DeSmith stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, including 20 saves in the first period alone.
Ovechkin beat DeSmith on the power play in the first when penalty killer Ryan Poehling left the Russian superstar alone in his trademark spot in the left faceoff circle. Ovechkin is now 82 back of Wayne Gretzky for the career goals record.
Kuemper made 36 saves in regulation and OT and then stopped Sidney Crosby and Malkin in the shootout in his fourth consecutive start for the Capitals, who were again playing without a top contributor. Winger Tom Wilson missed the game after taking a puck to his right leg Tuesday at Colorado.
Pittsburgh’s Danton Heinen also scored, following up on his three-point performance Tuesday against Florida, and Crosby had an assist on Rust’s tying goal. It was the 64th regular-season matchup between Crosby and Ovechkin.
Penguins: Return home to face the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night in their final game before their bye week and the NHL All-Star break.
Capitals: Visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday afternoon.
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