WASHINGTON -- Washington rookie Nicklas Backstrom made the most ghastly error of his young career yesterday, when he scored an own-goal in the final half-minute of regulation.
And it might be a coincidence that the Penguins, who used that goal to claim a 4-2 victory against the Capitals at the Verizon Center, were the beneficiaries of Backstrom's blunder, when his attempt to clear the puck sailed past goalie Cristobal Huet and inside the right post to snap a 2-2 tie.
Probably not, though, considering the kind of luck -- running the gamut from miserable to God-awful -- Washington traditionally has against the Penguins.
The Penguins, for example, have won six of seven playoff series against Washington and have a habit of leaving a lasting, negative impression on the Capitals' season.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who broke into the league with Washington, has experienced the rivalry from both sides, but can offer no insight on why things almost invariably break the Penguins' way.
"I don't know what the explanation is," he said. "It was always a good series. We always battled hard against Pittsburgh."
That includes a first-round meeting in 2001, when Martin Straka turned a puckhandling gaffe by a certain all-star defenseman from Washington into a series-winner in overtime of Game 6.
"I was skating up the ice with the puck -- the last guy [back], as a defenseman -- and the puck bounced over my blade and Straka scored on a breakaway," Gonchar said. "We lost the series."
Just, it seems, the way the Capitals always do against the Penguins.
Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin launched 10 shots at Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to run his league-leading total to 372.
"He shoots a lot, from every angle," Fleury said. "He has a good shot, too, so you always have to be ready. But he's also able to pass the puck pretty well."
Ovechkin assisted on both Washington goals yesterday and tops the NHL in goals (54) and points (95). But while Ovechkin gets most of the headlines in Washington, teammate Alexander Semin, who assisted on Washington's first goal and scored the second, is a world-class talent in his own right.
"He's a good player," Fleury said. "He's very skilled, and dangerous around the net."
The Pittsburgh Hornets, an organization that helped to mold Penguins left winger Ryan Malone into an NHL-caliber talent, has been cited as one of the top 10 developmental programs in the country by The Hockey News.
"I pretty much played all of my youth [hockey] there, except one year I played for the Amateur Penguins," Malone said.
"The program being ranked nationally like that is pretty nice."
Malone is one of four Hornets alumni who have spent at least part of this season in the NHL. The others are R.J. Umberger, Nate Guenin and John Zeiler.
The Hornets will play host to the 2009 Midget Major (under-18) Tier I and Tier II national championships.
The game attracted a capacity crowd of 18,277, the Capitals' fourth sellout of the season.
As usual, Penguins fans accounted for a significant portion of the turnout, and nearly everyone associated with the visitors suggested that the backing they received had an impact on the outcome.
"It's amazing when we play here, how much fan support we get," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's always nice to come here. [The Penguins' fans] energize you. You almost have a home feeling, with all the fans we have here."
The typically large turnout of Penguins partisans aside, the Capitals' surge into playoff contention hasn't gone unnoticed in this area. Washington has attracted an average of 16,843 fans to its past 15 home dates after drawing an average of 13,642 for its first 20 homes dates.