Penguins' 2-0 victory completes sweep of Capitals



The two points, they probably could have lived without.

After all, the Penguins already had more than any other team in the Eastern Conference.

What they couldn't afford to lose was their first-line left winger.

So, when Chris Kunitz's legs slammed into the goalpost in the second period of the Penguins' 2-0 victory Tuesday night against Washington at Consol Energy Center, his teammates were more than a little worried.

Several flashed back to earlier this season, when Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos crashed into a goalpost and ended up with a broken leg that sidelined him for several months and forced him to sit out the Olympics.

"It could have been bad," center Sidney Crosby said. "It was kind of similar to Stamkos, the way his leg kind of went into the post. He goes hard to the net, and sometimes that can happen."

Kunitz's left shin appeared to absorb the initial contact, and his right leg subsequently struck the post a few inches above his knee.

Kunitz, who was hurt after Capitals defenseman Mike Green knocked him down as Kunitz drove to the net, was in obvious pain and went directly to the bench, but did not go to the locker room.

Kunitz was back on the ice a few minutes later and finished the game. He was out of the locker room by the time it was opened to reporters, but his co-workers clearly were relieved that he hadn't been seriously hurt.

This, after all, is a club that already has lost 397 man-games to injury in 2013-14.

"It didn't look good [from] the bench, and him staying down for a while wasn't a good sign," forward Jussi Jokinen said. "But he's a tough guy. It was good to see he didn't get hurt badly."

The victory improved the Penguins' record to 44-17-4 and moved them three points ahead of second-place Boston in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have a game in hand.

The Penguins not only swept the four-game season series with Washington, but have won eight games in a row against the Capitals. That's a pretty impressive number. So is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout total for the season, five, which ties his career-high.

"I've never had many shutouts in a season, I guess," Fleury said. "But I'm looking forward to trying to beat that [mark], though."

Washington threw 32 shots at him, 20 of them in the third period, but Fleury rejected them all.

"Fleury played great," said Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 44 goals.

One of the keys to Fleury's shutout was his teammates limiting Ovechkin to two shots. He failed to score for the first time in his past seven games here.

Much of the credit for that goes to defenseman Brooks Orpik, who was matched against Ovechkin in both games of this home-and-home series.

"[Orpik] was really good denying him the puck, denying him the space and confronting him when he had [the puck]," Bylsma said.

Long before Fleury's shutout became official -- or before Kunitz crashed into the goalpost, for that matter -- there was a noteworthy sequence, as the Penguins and Capitals played for 13 minutes, 45 seconds without a whistle during the first period.

"I can't remember playing 14 minutes before the first TV timeout," Jokinen said. "It was a little weird."

Not so unsettling, however, that Jokinen couldn't deflect a Matt Niskanen shot past Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak for a 1-0 lead at 16:41 of the opening period.

That was the only goal for either team until 14:12 of the third, when Crosby beat Halak on a two-on-one break to give the Penguins their margin of victory.

Crosby's 31st goal of the season sealed the Penguins' second victory in two days over the Capitals, whose playoff prospects have been dealt a significant blow.

While the Capitals are nowhere near being mathematically eliminated from contention for a postseason spot, they have lost five of their past six games and their position is becoming increasingly perilous.

"It will be interesting to see," Jokinen said.

"They're in a bad spot now, but they still have lots of skill, lots of good players on that team.

"I'm sure they'll be battling to the end, and the last couple of years, they've made the playoffs in the last couple of games, so they'll be pushing hard.

"But it won't be easy."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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