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Crosby records three points as Penguins top Caps

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- The showdowns between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, considered one of the NHL's greatest rivalries, are becoming Sidney Crosby's personal showcases.

The Pittsburgh center scored one goal and assisted on two goals by left winger Chris Kunitz, and the Penguins earned a 3-2 win over the Capitals on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

"Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and (right winger Lee) Stempniak not only found some plays and found some chances, they were exceptional," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after the Penguins (43-17-4) moved past the Boston Bruins and into first place in the Eastern Conference standings with 90 points.

Washington (30-26-10) lost for the fourth time in five games and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. The Capitals are one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

"Every time we don't win a game, it puts us back in the standings," said right winger Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals' captain. "Right now we're in a desperate position, and we're going to fight through it."

Ovechkin recorded four shots and a team-high seven hits, but was held without a goal for the second time in three meetings against the Penguins this season.

Crosby, meanwhile, has two goals and four assists in three games against the Capitals in 2013-14, all victories.

In fact, the Penguins have won seven in a row over the Capitals, leaving coach Adam Oates still looking for his first win over Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Prior to Oates' hiring, the Capitals were on an 11-0-2 run against the Penguins.

"The special teams battle has been so big against this team, and it was again tonight," Bylsma said. "In past struggles against the Capitals, we've allowed them to get that power-play goal. We've been able to minimize what they're really good at, which is their power play."

Crosby's three-point performance was his 92nd since entering the NHL in 2005-06. The player closest to him in that department is Ovechkin, who has done it 76 times and leads the NHL with 44 goals.

Crosby came into the game with 46 points in 27 career games against the Capitals, and he padded those totals with another dominating performance, sending the Penguins into the third period with a 3-2 lead.

Crosby set up the first of Kunitz's two goals just 46 seconds into the game when he hit him with a pass inside the blue line. Kunitz did the rest, streaking past Washington defenseman Mike Green and beating Capitals goaltender Jaroslav Halak with a backhander for his career-high 30th goal of the season.

The Capitals struck back less than three minutes later when center Eric Fehr redirected a pass from left winger Jason Chimera past Penguins rookie netminder Jeff Zatkoff for his 11th goal of the season.

Less than a minute later, Crosby drew a slashing minor on Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, and he converted on the power play, drilling a pass from center Evgeni Malkin past Halak for his 30th goal of the season. It marked the sixth time in Crosby's nine-year career that he hit the 30-goal mark.

"I don't take too many of those," Crosby said. "Usually I'm a little closer when they go in, so it's nice to get one."

The score stayed that way until the 8:57 mark of the second period when the Caps' power play awakened. With Penguins center Joe Vitale in the box for tripping, Backstrom's centering pass intended for center Brooks Laich caromed off the skate of Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi and behind Zatkoff to tie the score at 2-2.

It was the first power-play goal allowed by the Penguins in five games.

Kunitz restored Pittsburgh's lead with 7:20 remaining in the second period when he beat Backstrom to a rebound of Stempniak's shot and netted his second goal of the night. Crosby picked up a secondary assist.

"They've always been pretty tight games," Crosby said of the rivalry with the Capitals. "I think they had some really good chances throughout the game, but we need to find a way to stay out of our end a little bit more."

NOTES: Washington RW Alex Ovechkin, Penguins C Sidney Crosby and Penguins C Evgeni Malkin played in the same game for the 21st time, and Pittsburgh is 15-5-1. ... Monday marked the NHL debut of highly touted Capitals rookie LW Evgeny Kuznetsov, who played the previous five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. Kuznetsov and Crosby both wear their birth years on their jerseys -- Crosby 87, Kuznetsov 92. ... Capitals coach Adam Oates has lost all six games against Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. The two were teammates for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2002-03. ... The Penguins improved to 18-5-1 against Metropolitan Division teams. ... The Capitals and Penguins go right back at it Tuesday night in Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center. The projected starting goalies are Marc-Andre Fleury for Pittsburgh and Braden Holtby for Washington.
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