WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals put their biggest rival firmly in the rear view mirror Sunday, thumping Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 5-2 victory that included a dismissive goodbye wave from one superstar to the other.
Ovechkin scored his league-leading 43rd goal, one of five Capitals to find the net, and Washington chased goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period in a blowout that should settle any doubt the tide has turned in a series that used to be one-sided in favour of the Penguins.
The Capitals are 3-0 against Pittsburgh this season and 4-1-1 since Bruce Boudreau became coach 15 months ago. Before Boudreau, the Capitals were 1-7-1 in their previous nine games in the series, giving Crosby the early bragging rights over Ovechkin in what the NHL hopes will be a long rivalry between its young marquee talents.
Now the Capitals are thinking Stanley Cup, while the Penguins - last year's losing Cup finalist - would not make the playoffs if the post-season started now. They fell to 2-1-1 under interim coach Dan Bylsma, who was promoted after Michel Therrien was fired a week earlier.
Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Shaone Morrisonn and Brooks Laich scored for the Capitals, who led 2-1 after the first period and 5-2 after Morrisonn and Laich beat Fleury on back-to-back shots 25 seconds apart in the second. Fleury was pulled for Mathieu Garon after Laich's goal, which came at 13:21 of the period.
Maxime Talbot and Sergei Gonchar scored for the Penguins, who have lost six of seven on the road and lost in Washington for the first time since Ovechkin's rookie season in 2006.
The game's other highlight came in the final minute of the second period, when Ovechkin gave Crosby a nudge with the shoulder as both skated the benches. Crosby retaliated by pushing Ovechkin's upper body over the boards at the Capitals' bench. Ovechkin then took his arm and gave Crosby a squeeze around the neck, and Crosby's helmet came off as linesman Greg Devorski stepped in to break up the two.
Crosby was clearly agitated and continued to be restrained by Devorski. Meanwhile, Ovechkin took his spot on the Capitals bench, smiled and gave Crosby a "So long" wave with his left hand.
The sellout crowd and national television audience came to see Ovechkin, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - three of the top scorers in the NHL - but Crosby and Malkin had to settle for one assist apiece on Gonchar's goal.
Ovechkin finished with a goal and an assist, and his first-period score capped some fluid puck movement by his teammates on the power play. After Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom worked a perfect give-and-go, Backstrom sneaked a pass between defenceman Rob Scuderi's legs to set up Ovechkin's one-timer from the left circle.
Notes: The Capitals have won 13 straight at home against Eastern Conference opponents and are 24-5-1 at home against all opposition. ... The win gives Washington its best record through 60 games (38-17-5) in franchise history.