Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby celebrate with Chris Kunitz after his goal in the third period Sunday against the Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
Trevor Daley and Tom Kuhnhackl each had a goal and two asissts for the Penguins, who held the Capitals to just 18 shots on goal.
Matt Cullen hugs Tom Kuhnhackl after scoring against the Washington Capitals in the second period Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
Justin Schultz celebrates after his goal in the third period.
Bryan Rust celebrates his goal in the first period against the Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins figured to be due for one of those games.
The kind in which their execution is as crisp as a wet tissue, when fatigue and misfortune conspire to sabotage the best of intentions.
After all, they were playing for the third time in four days, had won five games in a row and were little more than 24 hours removed from an exhilarating 4-1 victory in Philadelphia.
So perhaps they actually were overdue.
But if so, it didn’t show during their 6-2 victory Sunday against Washington at Consol Energy Center.
On a day when a lot of variables were stacked against them — they were facing a team that sits atop the overall standings, and had been resting while the Penguins faced the Flyers — the Penguins responded with one of their best performances of 2015-16.
If the game in Philadelphia was their finest of the season, as many players contend, what they did against the Capitals wasn’t much worse than a silver medalist.
“Our game was really good both nights,” center Matt Cullen said. “It was nice to see us rise to the challenge.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury faced a total of just 35 shots on goal during 120 minutes of work over the weekend. The Penguins have allowed more than that in 15 individual games this season.
“You just stand back there,” Fleury said. “You have nothing to do.”
Except, perhaps, to appreciate the way his teammates were playing.
The victory was the Penguins’ sixth in a row, matching their longest streak of the season, and raised their record to 40-24-8.
They have tied the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division — both teams have 88 points and 10 games remaining — although they aren’t particularly close to securing a playoff berth.
Without factoring in potential tiebreakers, the Penguins’ magic number for finishing ahead of Detroit is 16. It’s 17 for ending up in front of Philadelphia.
Washington, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s inevitable, though, which might explain why the Capitals’ urgency did not rival that of the Penguins.
“They’re in playoff mode,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “They wanted it more and we got exactly what we deserved.”
The only negative for the Penguins was that defenseman Brian Dumoulin was hurt by a hit from Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin and had to be helped off the ice. Coach Mike Sullivan said he had no information on the nature or severity of Dumoulin’s injury.
When Dumoulin left the game about 7½ minutes into the third, the Penguins had a 5-2 lead. That was considerably more comfortable than the 3-2 edge they held at the second intermission, because Washington had outscored its previous opponents, 88-54, during the third.
The Penguins’ antidote for that was to approach the third the way they had the previous two.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “We didn’t want to give them any gimmes. We went in with the lead and wanted to keep the lead, but we also wanted to push and try to get the next one without giving up anything.”
Cullen got that one at 3:46 to make it 4-2, and Chris Kunitz put the Penguins up by three at 7:18. By the time Justin Schultz closed out the scoring with a power-play goal — you remember those, right? — any suspense about the outcome was long gone.
“It was just a great third period,” right winger Patric Hornqvist said. “We played the right way.”
And there was nothing overdue about that.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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