Backstrom's shootout winner lifts Capitals over Penguins
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom was grumpier than his usual self the morning before he and the Washington Capitals faced the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It happens sometimes when you’ve lost two in a row," he said.
By the end of the night, Backstrom flipped the mood by scoring the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory Thursday that ended the Capitals' two-game skid and kept them ahead of their archrivals in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“It’s always good to get a chance to do the shootout and obviously nice to get a win, too," Backstrom said with a smile. "That’s all that matters. Yeah, keep grinding.”
Washington grinded out just a third win in eight games thanks to 35 saves in regulation and overtime by Darcy Kuemper and goals from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. Kuemper stopped Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout to hand the Penguins a fifth loss in eight games.
The usually even-tempered goaltender who backstopped Colorado to the Stanley Cup last season pumped his arms in an emphatic celebration after turning aside Malkin's attempt.
“It was a huge two points for us: That’s not really a secret,” Kuemper said. “We knew how big this game was coming into it. It took us the stretch, but these games feel really good when you get the job done. We played super hard, and we earned it.”
With goals from Danton Heinen and Bryan Rust, the Penguins earned a point in a sixth consecutive game and trail Washington by just a single point in the standings. Pittsburgh also has three additional games left on its schedule, but that was little consolation after letting this one slip away.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of just fighting and battling," Crosby said. "It’s a nightly thing. We’ve got to make sure that we’re consistent, but we’ve been competing hard and finding ways and we’ve got to find another level here going into the stretch run.”
Casey DeSmith found another level in net, stopping 43 of 45 shots in regulation and OT in a start in place of injured No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry. DeSmith gave up six goals Tuesday against Florida and rebounded in a big way.
“I felt great," DeSmith said. "I felt like myself. I felt like I played my game, which I was really happy about. That was kind of my focus going in — just trusting my game, going out and playing it and thankfully I was able to do that.”
But so did the Capitals, who have Ovechkin and his trademark one-timer on the power play. Ovechkin's goal in the first period gave him 32 this season and 812 in his NHL career, 82 back of Wayne Gretzky's record.
Johansson gave Washington the lead early in the third period before Rust tied it with 7:08 left to keep the Penguins' point streak alive. But the Capitals thanks to shootout goals by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Backstrom left the building in a much happier state of mind.
“I feel like we had a good game,” Johansson said. "We want to get back to our winning ways here and rack up some wins."
Penguins: Return home to face the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night in their final game before their bye week and the NHL All-Star break.
Capitals: Visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday afternoon.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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