PITTSBURGH — It was a night of personal milestones in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as Evgeni Malkin became the 88th player in NHL history to record his 1,000th career point, while Alex Ovechkin became just the 49th player to hit the 1,200 point plateau.
In the end, it was Malkin’s team that ended up getting the two important points in the standings in a 5-3 win that was highlighted by a quick flurry of goals in the second period to completely swing the game, snapping what had been a seven-game winning streak for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
With just under eight minutes to play in the second period the Penguins were not only trailing by a pair of goals, but were not even really generating any sort of a consistent threat offensively against Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. They badly needed a spark, and it was Jared McCann, one of their big mid-season acquisitions, that was able to help provide it.
McCann, who would also add an empty-net goal to help put the game away, sparked a ferocious Penguins rally when he stripped Evgeny Kuznetsov of the puck just inside the Capitals’ blue line and set up Jake Guentzel for his 35th goal of the season to get the Penguins on the board.
It was a completely different game from that point on, with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan saying after the game his team was “standing a foot taller” after that shift.
Less than a minute later Penguins captain Sidney Crosby chased down a perfectly placed lob-pass from Justin Schultz to get behind the Capitals’ defense and beat Holtby through the five-hole to tie the game.
Crosby struck again just one minute later on the power — on a set-up from Malkin for his 999th point — to give the Penguins their first lead of the game.
Malkin would later collect point No. 1,000 when he set up Phil Kessel for another power play goal at the 11:56 mark of the third period.
“We were all thrilled, his teammates were so excited for him, the coaches as well,” said Sullivan. “He’s been anxious to reach the milestone, so when he was finally able to get it everybody was excited and thrilled for him. You could see the raw emotion from the players on the ice and on the bench. It’s cool to be a part of that.”
Sullivan later added that Malkin does not get enough credit outside of Pittsburgh in the hockey world for “being an elite player for more than a decade.”
Ovechkin would record his 1,200th point just three minute later when he assisted on a John Carlson power play goal to bring the Capitals back to within one.
That was as close as they would end up getting.
For the Penguins, it continues what is now an impressive 6-1-1 run over their past eight games.
That stretch has seen them beat Columbus, Boston, Montreal, and Washington to drastically improve their position in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It looked to be a daunting stretch of games when it began, especially given their current injury situation, but thanks to some strong goaltending, a simplified approach on defense to cover for the players that are out of the lineup, and some outstanding play from their superstars they have managed to elevate their game just when they needed to.
With Tuesday’s result the Penguins are back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and maintain a four-point lead over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens.