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Fleury's 32 saves help Penguins blank Capitals

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins won the back end of a home-and-home with the Washington Capitals 2-0 to complete a season sweep of their Metropolitan Division foes.

Marc-Andre Fleury was the main catalyst to the Penguins' fourth win against the Capitals this season and franchise-record eighth straight victory against their longtime rivals. He stopped all 32 shots he faced Tuesday to earn his fifth shutout, tying his career high.

Sidney Crosby scored his 31st goal of the season to give the Penguins a two-goal lead with 5:48 remaining in the third period. Crosby and Chris Kunitz converged on Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak on a 2-on-1. The Pittsburgh captain chose to keep the puck and snapped a shot past Halak.

"They played hard. The second half of the game, they really came at us," Crosby said. "To keep them off the board was important. We gave ourselves a chance there, especially when they're hanging around. It's 1-0, a lot can happen, so it's good to close that one out."

Kunitz seemed to be injured earlier in the third period after he collided with Capitals defenseman Mike Green before falling into the Washington net and then the end boards. He skated to the bench gingerly and took a shift on Pittsburgh's fourth line before returning to his position alongside Crosby and Lee Stempniak.

Fleury preserved Pittsburgh's two-goal lead by denying Marcus Johansson of a goal during a Washington power play. Johansson seemed to have a clear shot at the net with Fleury sprawled in his crease, but he bobbled the puck, allowing Fleury to recover for a glove save near the bottom of the right post.

Fleury said he appreciates shutting out Washington more than he would most other teams.

"Every time we play them, it's pretty intense," Fleury said. "It's a close game and a hard fought game, so it's definitely nice to get the [win] tonight."

Alex Ovechkin credited Fleury with holding the Capitals without a goal over the final two periods, when he felt Washington had several quality chances to score.

"Fleury played great tonight," Ovechkin said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't score. We had opportunities to score, but he was unstoppable today."

The teams played a fluid first period that included 13:45 of action without a whistle after a stoppage 39 seconds into the game. Halak, who made 32 saves in his third consecutive start for the Capitals, covered the puck with 5:36 remaining in the period to a chorus of boos to end the lengthy stretch of uninterrupted play.

The next stoppage was the result of Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen's 17th goal of the season.

After playing on the third line Monday, Jokinen returned to his customary position as the second-line left wing alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. The trio charged into Washington's zone before Malkin slipped a pass to defenseman Matt Niskanen at the point. Jokinen deflected Niskanen's snap shot past Halak with 3:19 left in the first, extending his point streak to five games (one goal, five assists).

Halak said he was surprised to get the start for the second consecutive night.

"It doesn't make any difference," Halak said. "I was happy at the same time, but too bad we couldn't get the two points from it. … I'm there to stop the puck, and tonight I let in two. It's tough to win when you don't score any goals, especially on the road.

"I know everybody was trying hard. It just didn't go our way."

The Penguins continued to generate the majority of scoring chances through the second period. Pittsburgh matched its output of 20 total shots Monday less than midway through the second; the Capitals did not record a shot during the period's opening 10:59.

Pittsburgh came close to extending its lead to two goals twice in the second as Washington struggled to produce a shot. Neal split Washington's defense and wristed a shot on goal, but Halak kicked out his left pad to make the save 7:24 into the second.

Stempniak had a better chance 39 seconds later. He collected the puck after it slid past Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the crease, and after his shot sent the puck airborne off of Halak, he batted it off of the crossbar.

Washington attempted to generate offense by mixing its lines, including using forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was playing his second NHL game, with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for a short period.

"The first period was lousy and was a product of everybody," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Sometimes, you change lines just to get different matchups from their coach. All of a sudden, we began clicking with a little bit of energy, so I stuck with it, for the most part, for the rest of the game."

Fleury trails Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask by one for the League lead in shutouts.

After recording 22 or fewer shots in four consecutive games, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he was more satisfied with his team's output Tuesday, but thinks Pittsburgh's focus on defense will be important during the playoffs.

"We've played a little bit too much on the defensive side," Bylsma said. "We need to play in the offensive zone better. You saw that a little bit tonight. But we know exactly how playoff hockey is won and playing defense, playing team defense, giving up two goals or less is where it's at."

Pittsburgh, which beat the Capitals 3-2 at Verizon Center on Monday, is off until Saturday, when it begins a home-and-home series by visiting the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

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