It wasn't until Washington's Mike Knuble scored his first career shootout goal that the Capitals went home with a 4-3 victory and two more points in the standings.
Jordan Staal's rocket from the right circle into the top left corner of the net tied the game with 3:06 remaining. The Capitals didn't fall apart then -- nor after Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead in the shootout after only two rounds on goals by Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby.
Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin both beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with nifty dekes before Knuble knifed down the middle of the zone and ripped a shot into the top right portion of the net.
"It's fun because it's the first time it has happened to me and I doubt I'll ever get that chance again," said Knuble, who was 0-for-4 previously in the shootout. "It's just bury your head and shoot it."
With the point earned in the shootout loss the Penguins grabbed the lead in the Atlantic Division over the New Jersey Devils, who can re-take it with a win over the Rangers on Thursday at PrudentialCenter.
Washington is also rooting for the Rangers. If the Devils fail to come away with two points and the Capitals win in Carolina on Thursday, they will clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in club history.
The two points they gained Wednesday were enough to tie a franchise record for points in a season (108).
Teams that score first in shootouts win roughly 80 percent of the time. Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the breakaway competition is almost unheard of.
"I don't know how often you get down 2-0 in a shootout and you come back," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's thinking, 'Oh man, we're done, there's no way.' But, I don't think we ever think that. I think that's the kind of group we have."
The Capitals showed their resiliency in the third period when they came back from a 2-1 deficit on a shorthanded goal by Semin and a deflection goal by Eric Fehr that were separated by just 1:56.
Semin's goal came on a phenomenal individual effort after he intercepted Crosby's pass at the Caps' blue line. It gave the Capitals momentum that they capitalized on with Fehr's goal off a deflection of Mike Green's blast from the top of the right circle.
However, Staal sucked some life out of the rocking building with his tying goal at 16:54.
It also gave the Penguins the point they needed out of this game and allowed coach Dan Bylsma to think his team may be fighting its way out of the inconsistent lulls they've been experiencing lately. The Penguins are now 2-3-3 in their last eight games, and the word "inconsistency" has been following them around lately.
"For a lot of reasons, that's the type of game we expect from our team and how we can play," Bylsma said. "From the way we started and played through the first (period) to the way we responded when things didn't go our way and sticking with it and getting a big goal from Jordan Staal, that is the way we need to play."
On the flip side, the Capitals didn't think Wednesday's game was a good indication of how they ought to be playing. They were obviously happy with the win and the two points, but they didn't like giving up a 2-on-1 power-play goal to Guerin, who got a pretty feed from Crosby, or an open look to Staal late in a one-goal game.
"I think we didn't play our game at all," Ovechkin told NHL.com. "When we get the puck deep, we stay in their zone and we score goals -- but we don't do it all the time. Jose (Theodore) keeps us in the game and it's nice when we can win when we don't play well."
Theodore, who made 39 saves through 65 minutes, has won seven straight games and has a franchise-record 19 straight games without a regulation loss (17-0-2). He was especially impressive in the first period when Pittsburgh had 17 shots on goal to the Caps' nine, but the game was still scoreless after 20 minutes.
Knuble put the Caps on the board 1:09 into the second period when he gained position at the right post and while being pushed into the crease by Staal swiped the loose puck inside the right post.
However, Maxime Talbot scored on a deflection of Brooks Orpik's shot from the right point just 72 seconds later, and Guerin put home his power-play goal at 14:39 to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
Jeff Schultz held Crosby for the Capitals' fifth penalty of the game just 4:11 into the third period, but Semin put together his unreal individual effort to score the game-tying goal a little over a minute later. Fehr gave the Caps the lead 7:32 into the third period.
"I still think we had too many penalties and in the third we had another penalty, but (Semin) was able to come and make that big play," Theodore said. "From there we saw the momentum switch sides and we were able to get another one. It's a huge win."
As you would expect when these rivals meet up, the building had the atmosphere and the game had the intensity you would expect to see next month in the playoffs. Each team played with a nasty edge.
Even though the Caps' were called for five penalties to the Penguins' one, center Nicklas Backstrom told NHL.com he liked the way the officials called the game.
"I think the refs were good because they didn't give out too many penalties," Backstrom said. "They let the guys hit a lot out there. That was good and it was a tight game."
Theodore said he sensed the uniqueness of the game right from the opening faceoff.
"You could see it was an extra special game," the goalie said. "The pace was really fast and both teams played really well. That's why you end getting it decided in a shootout."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
|Mike Knuble (26) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (60), Alex Ovechkin (53)|
1 - 0 WSH
|Maxime Talbot (2) ASST: Brooks Orpik (20), Craig Adams (9)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Bill Guerin (19) ASST: Sidney Crosby (44), Alexei Ponikarovsky (27)|
2 - 1 PIT
|SHG - Alexander Semin (34) ASST: NONE|
2 - 2 Tie
|Eric Fehr (21) ASST: Mike Green (54), Eric Belanger (25)|
3 - 2 WSH
|Jordan Staal (21) ASST: Chris Kunitz (19), Jordan Leopold (13)|
3 - 3 Tie
|1||K. Letang||N. Backstrom||1 - 0|
|2||S. Crosby||A. Ovechkin||2 - 1|
|3||B. Guerin||A. Semin||2 - 2|
|4||C. Kunitz||M. Knuble||2 - 3|
|Tom Poti Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Tomas Fleischmann Tripping against Ruslan Fedotenko|
|Kris Letang Tripping against Alex Ovechkin|
|Alexander Semin Hi-sticking against Mike Rupp|
|Tomas Fleischmann Tripping against Kris Letang|
|Jeff Schultz Holding against Sidney Crosby|