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3 Impressions: Pens 6, Caps 2

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Penguins' 6-2 win over the Washington Capitals (their sixth straight victory).

This may have been the loudest crowd I’ve heard all season at CONSOL Energy Center, and they certainly had a lot to get excited for. The Pens are in the playoff mindset, and tonight was a perfect example of that. It was an intense, physical and emotional matchup, with the bad blood certainly boiling between these long-time rivals at times. It was simmering all game with certain matchups – Patric Hornqvist and Brooks Orpik the primary one – and erupted when TJ Oshie went after Sidney Crosby during a big scrum behind the Caps net. But even though the Pens allowed Washington to erase a 2-0 deficit shortly after that, they didn't get rattled. Instead, they responded by reeling off four unanswered goals to chase Vezina Trophy frontrunner Braden Holtby from the net. To put up a six-spot against one of the NHL’s top-three defensive teams (and of course, the likely Presidents Trophy winner) while allowing just 18 shots against was an incredible performance for the home fans – and they showed their appreciation.

The Pens were coming off a terrific performance over the Flyers on Saturday, but they were not going to be able to dominate Washington as easily as they did Philadelphia. The Capitals are so strong in every aspect of the game and they were certainly going to have their chances. But when the Pens did lose momentum, they had to get it back quick. And that’s exactly what they did tonight. The Caps were all over them during the first six whistle-free minutes, but one pretty play from Ian Cole, Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust instantly changed that. And in the second period, after Crosby was robbed of a power-play goal during an early whistle, Andre Burakovsky scored on a breakaway out of the box to erase a 2-0 deficit. But just 54 seconds later, the rookie Kuhnhackl responded with a big goal – which stood as the game-winner. From there, the Pens settled in and pulled away.

Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust have become such big parts of this team during this second half of the season. But they are still young NHLers, and I was curious as to how they would handle the pressure of huge divisional games against longtime rivals down the stretch as these are obviously precursors for the playoffs. If tonight is any indication, let’s just say they’ll be thriving, not surviving come the postseason. I couldn’t be more impressed with the way those two stepped up today. Not only did they do what they always do in terms of being difficult to play against; they also each contributed crucial points on the scoresheet.

- With tonight’s win, the Penguins moved ahead of the New York Rangers into 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time since Nov. 6.

- Pittsburgh’s active 6-game winning streak equals its longest winning streak this season, and is the NHL’s longest active run.

- The Penguins are 14-3-1 in their last 18 games against Metropolitan Division foes.

- The team is 15-3-2 in their last 20 games at CONSOL Energy Center. During those 20 home games, they have scored 77 goals for an average of 3.85 goals per game.

- Crosby’s 2 assists extended his season-high point streak to 12 games (6G-14A-20PTS). Crosby’s streak is the longest active run in the NHL.

- Crosby now has a 10-game point streak (4G-11A-15PTS) against Metropolitan Division foes.
He is the only active NHL player with multiple 10-game point streaks this season, and is the 3rd-leading scorer (76PTS) in the league.

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