WASHINGTON -- After more than 30 minutes of nearly constant offensive pressure, the Washington Capitals finally put one puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury late in the second period and went to the intermission Thursday night with plenty of momentum against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins, playing in their second game in as many nights and facing a rested opponent, needed a spark -- and their captain provided it.
Sidney Crosby helped shift an epic contest between two rivals back in his club's favor just 17 seconds into the final period. Despite being marked effectively by Washington defenseman Karl Alzner, Crosby one-handed the puck toward the net. Chris Kunitz found the rebound and slid it along the ice past Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth to reclaim the lead. The Penguins went on to a 3-2 shootout victory at Verizon Center.
"He's one of those guys that a play will look dead and the next thing you know he just comes out and finds a way to turn something from nothing into something," forward Mike Rupp said. "That's a great effort by him. We've become spoiled by that and we tend to expect it, so sometimes you don't always notice all of the exceptional things he does."
Added Matt Cooke: "He's been unbelievable for us with the way he's playing right now. He's leading by example and any time that you do that it is easy to ask the other players to play the right way. I think that is definitely a strength of our team."
Crosby has had plenty of unbelievable performances in the first half of this season, and this was another one against perhaps his team's most bitter rival.
Crosby also opened the scoring 3:21 into the contest with a great deflection for his 29th goal of the season. He found a patch of open space to the right of the Washington net – one of Crosby's favorite spots on the ice – and waited for a shot from defenseman Kris Letang. Instead of just trying to get his stick on the puck – Crosby punched at it with his stick and chipped it behind Neuvirth.
The goal extended his scoring streak to 23 games, the longest in the NHL since Quebec's Mats Sundin had a point in 30 consecutive games in 1992-93. Crosby has 45 points in the 23 games and is averaging a goal a game during the streak.
"I don't think you go into the game expecting that, but I'm certainly not surprised that we leave the game and he's got a goal and an assist," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He leads the scoring off and then when we need a big play – Washington had the power plays in the second and got back into the game with that goal – right from the drop of the puck to start the third we get that goal from Sid and his line. He paced the game for us."
Crosby now has 60 points -- no else in the League has 50. He has a two-goal over Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who scored in the Lightning's 4-3 shootout win at New York, and leads Stamkos by 12 points in the scoring race. Crosby is on pace for 64 goals – one shy of Alex Ovechkin's 65 in 2007-08 for the most since Mario Lemieux's 69 in 1995-96 – and 132 points.
"I'm just trying to do the same things every night and capitalize on the chances I've gotten," Crosby said. "We've played as a team too and I think everyone benefits from that. I am just trying to think about creating and capitalize on the chances."
While some of Crosby's best career numbers have come against in-state rival Philadelphia (26 goals and 62 points 36 games), he has also enjoyed playing against the Capitals as well with 13 goals and 35 points in 20 contests – and that doesn't include the 8 goals and 13 points in an epic seven-game playoff series two seasons ago.
"I don't approach it any differently – I think it just brings out the best in everyone," Crosby said. "That's a good thing, that's the way it should be. It seems like both teams bring out the best in one another. They're very competitive and it's developed into a rivalry and every year it seems like it's getting bigger and bigger with the history in the playoffs and games like this every year. It's hard for it to not gain intensity."