The Pittsburgh Penguins were barely competitive in a visit to the nation's capital last month, when it looked like they might not be joining the Washington Capitals in the postseason.
Two weeks later, Pittsburgh hasn't lost since and Washington suddenly can't win on its home ice.
Sidney Crosby and the red-hot Penguins will look to close their five-game road trip with a season high-tying sixth straight win Sunday afternoon in Washington, where the Capitals will get Alex Ovechkin back as they try to avoid a fourth straight home loss.
Pittsburgh (34-26-6) was in 10th place in the Eastern Conference after a 5-2 loss in Washington on Feb. 22, and following a home game against the New York Islanders, was facing an intimidating five-game trip.
To make matters worse, Crosby suffered a groin injury in the loss to the Capitals (40-21-5), and the Penguins looked shaky offensively in a 1-0 win over the Islanders on Feb. 25.
Since hitting the road, though, they've turned it around. Pittsburgh reeled off wins at Chicago, Dallas and Tampa Bay with Crosby on the shelf, then got a goal from its captain in his return Thursday in a 4-1 victory over Florida.
"We were 4-0 without him, so we were going to tell him to stay home," joked Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a 1.40 goals-against average during the winning streak. "No, he's an important player, he's our captain, a good leader, a good worker. It's good to have him back."
Crosby isn't the only high-profile star in this game who has missed time recently. Washington played without Ovechkin on Thursday after the NHL's leading goal scorer bruised his heel in practice the day before.
With Ovechkin out, the Capitals lost 2-1 to Toronto - their third straight defeat at home. Washington has lost five of seven at the Verizon Center after going 23-4-1 in its first 28 there.
"We had enough chances to win two or three games, but we're in that situation right now where guys are holding their sticks really tight and not doing things that are natural to them," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And consequently we're not scoring."
After a 45-minute workout Saturday, Ovechkin said he's 100 percent and pronounced himself ready to go against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh went 3-0-1 against the Capitals last season, but Washington has owned the Penguins in 2008-09. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have three goals apiece as the Caps have outscored the Pens 15-8 in winning all three meetings.
There's also been some continued bad blood between the NHL's top three scorers. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin have feuded throughout their young careers, and last month in Washington it was Crosby and Ovechkin who exchanged words.
"What I can say about him?" Ovechkin said. "He is a good player, but he talks too much."
Crosby was critical of Ovechkin's showmanship.
"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," said Crosby, who has 13 points in his last eight games against Washington. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."
Crosby, third in the league in points behind Ovechkin and Malkin, could be in position to continue his success against the Caps with a pair of new linemates.
Chris Kunitz, who came over from Anaheim on Feb. 26, didn't score Thursday but has three goals and two assists in his other three games. Bill Guerin, acquired from the Islanders on Wednesday, assisted on Crosby's goal against the Panthers.
"Both (Guerin) and Kunitz did a great job (in Florida) and we're still learning from each other," Crosby said. "We can still create more. We'll figure some chemistry there."
Pittsburgh had won its previous four trips to Washington prior to last month's loss.