Pens end Caps’ streak at five wins

WASHINGTON — The calendar said December. The intensity felt like late spring.

The third meeting this season between longtime rivals Pittsburgh and Washington featured tight checking, strong goaltending and more than a few punches. The Penguins won 2-1 on Wednesday night, yet the Capitals appreciated the ferocity with which the game was played.

“It was a good game, especially this time of year, one with playoff mentality,” Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We haven’t had one of those since Vegas.”

Holtby was referring to the 2018 Stanley Cup finals, when the Capitals beat the Golden Knights to earn their first championship.

Washington came in with five straight wins and a 12-2 record since Nov. 14.

“Obviously, you don’t want to end up on the losing side, but I think we did a lot of good things tonight and both teams played really well,” Holtby said. “It’s one you can really learn from.”

Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins. They were scuffling along with a 15-12-6 record before playing one of their best games of the season.

“We’ve got to build on it,” Crosby said. “It’s a divisional game, a rivalry, a team that we’ve seen a lot, so these kind of intense, emotional games seem to bring out the best in us. We understand we need that same intensity, same desperation every night if we want to win.”

It was the third meeting this season between the rivals, each of which has been decided by one goal. Pittsburgh has won two of them. In this one, Crosby had a hand in both Pittsburgh goals and logged more than 22 minutes.

Facing Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals is all the motivation Crosby needs to bring his game to a higher level.

“When you play these rival-type games, there’s an elevated level of emotion associated with it,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “My experience of being around Sid is that he’s at his best in those situations.”

Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period with his sixth goal in five games, and the Penguins held on behind goaltender Matt Murray, who stopped 31 shots.

“They’re a heck of a team,” Murray said. “They won last year for a reason. They gave us all we could handle.”

Ovechkin was held without a goal for the first time in seven games and had his career-high run of games with a point end at 14.

In addition, Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov had his streak of eight straight games with an assist come to an end, one shy of the franchise record.

Lars Eller put the Capitals up 1-0 at 6:38 of the second period, pushing the puck past Murray after taking a lead pass from Tom Wilson.

Crosby tied it less than three minutes later, deflecting a pass from Evgeni Malkin into the right side of the net with Pittsburgh on the power play.

Rust made it 2-1 with just over a minute left in the period, hacking away at the puck in front of the net before it finally popped Holtby.

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