Penguins top Capitals, 6-3, for third victory in a row


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WASHINGTON -- A lot of moments and memories help define the rivalry between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals.

The Penguins' 6-3 win Sunday at Verizon Center doesn't quite fit.

This was not a game from the 1990s, when Penguins fans gobbled up a lot of tickets when the teams played here and sometimes were just as loud as the Capitals faithful.

"The rivalry was still the rivalry," said Washington coach Adam Oates, who spent four-plus seasons playing for the Capitals and rattled off the names of Penguins greats he faced -- Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis.

"All those guys that I played against for a lot of years -- great teams," Oates said.

Neither was the game Sunday so much about the next generation of names in the rivalry -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, and Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.

All three played strong games, but if the coaches' antithetical posturing is any indication, the rivalry was secondary to two teams in different places attempting to prosper in this lockout-shortened season.

"We have to build," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma nearly pleaded, even though his club is looking more and more like the group that has been widely picked to be a Stanley Cup contender or winner.

The Penguins pulled out of a 2-2, second-period tie -- forged when the Capitals got a whacky bounce for a goal -- and rode a Chris Kunitz hat trick and cohesive play in all areas of the ice to their third win in a row.

Those three games -- a shutout against the Rangers in New York; their first win this season at Consol Energy Center against New Jersey; and a win Sunday against Washington -- moved the Penguins into a second-place tie with Tampa Bay and Montreal in the Eastern Conference with 12 points, one behind Boston, through nine games.

"We weren't where we needed to be or where we wanted to be at all for the better part of the first six games," Bylsma said. "Having one good game or winning in Madison Square Garden or winning a home game or coming in here and winning doesn't mean we're a great team or we're going to win hockey games."

Washington, meanwhile, lost for the seventh time in nine games, but Oates' point was quite different from Bylsma's.

"I thought we played a good hockey game," Oates said. "We did what we were supposed to do. They didn't generate anything we didn't give them."

The Penguins opened the scoring on defenseman Paul Martin's blast from the right point at 3:37 of the first period. It was originally credited to Kunitz, who said he thought he touched the puck on its way past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

After Mike Green tied it for Washington 1:42 later, Matt Cooke was credited with giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 8:20 of the first period, but there was some dispute over whether he touched the shot by Deryk Engelland.

"Whatever," Kunitz said of uncertainty over who should get which goals. "That's how it bounces. No one really cares around here."

The biggest bounce of the game came on Washington's tying goal. John Carlson dumped the puck in, and Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun went behind the net to play it. But the puck struck a stanchion between panes of glass, sharply changed direction and landed in the net to make it 2-2 at 4:03 of the second period.

"I like the way our team responded after that," Vokoun said.

Over the ensuing 3 minutes, 30 seconds, the Penguins successfully killed a penalty and got goals from Kris Letang and Kunitz -- this one unquestionably his -- for a 4-2 edge.

They got another goal from Kunitz, this one on a power play, to make it 5-2 at 13:59 of the second period.

Washington turned up the heat in the third period, registering 11 shots and pulling to within 5-3 on Mike Ribeiro's power-play goal at 3:33.

The Penguins withstood the push, and Kunitz completed his hat trick when he scored with 7.2 seconds remaining while the Penguins had a five-on-three advantage.

"We played well to start the season," Kunitz said of opening road wins against Philadelphia and the Rangers. "Then we didn't have a good stretch of games."

They went 1-3 before this winning streak.

"We're trying to build a new identity, and that's being able to play 60-minute games, trying to do the same things from the first shift to the fifth shift and into the third period," Kunitz said. "I think we've done a great job of building on that."

To the point where things such as decades-old rivalries can get overlooked.

"A lot of teams are playing a lot of hockey," Crosby said. "You're trying not to worry about who you're playing too much, just trying to go with each game and get points and move on."

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly.


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