PITTSBURGH -- Alexander Ovechkin didn't do much offensively, a commonplace event lately. Instead, it was the runner-up Russian who created a goal out of nothing, keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins' most successful stretch in 14 years going.
Evgeni Malkin scored a bad-angle goal to give Pittsburgh the lead in another tightly played game against Washington and the streaking Penguins won their sixth in a row, beating the Capitals 3-2 Sunday.
The Penguins have gained at least a point in 16 consecutive games, going 14-0-2 -- their longest run since they won a league-record 17 in a row and tied one to end the 1992-93 season. The surprise is that NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who has 91 points, is slumping with only one goal in 10 games.
Malkin has keyed the Penguins' first playoff run since 2001 with 10 goals and 16 assists in 17 games. His teammates are convinced that Malkin, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 NHL draft to Ovechkin, is more than a little motivated any time he goes against his Russian rival. It was the first and only time two Russians were picked 1-2.
"They're very competitive, good hockey players and good friends so there's definitely a little bit of something with him," Mark Recchi said.
Of Malkin's 29 goals as a rookie, perhaps none was more creative than his score late in the second period. With the score tied at 1, Malkin carried the puck out from behind the Capitals' net and fed it up the right wing boards to Sergei Gonchar -- at this time a year ago, Malkin's Russian Olympic teammate.
Malkin took Gonchar's giveback pass and, from along the goal line, one-timed a perfectly placed left-handed shot inside the far post, almost before Washington backup goalie Brent Johnson could react.
The goal reminded Recchi of some of those scored by a former Penguins teammate named Mario Lemieux.
"With his size and his hands, Geno looks like him," Recchi said. "Mario was one of those guys who can score from that angle, and only a few guys can. A lot of guys don't even try that."
Malkin, speaking through interpreter George Firman, called it a "lucky goal." But he acknowledged having a little something extra any time he goes against Ovechkin, who was leading the NHL in goals before being held to one goal and one assist in his last seven games.
"Yeah, of course, I'm enjoy playing against him especially when we win the games -- and he's getting pretty mad," Malkin said.
After the Penguins similarly frustrated Ovechkin in a 2-0 win in Pittsburgh on Feb. 3, Ovechkin broke his stick in anger while going to the locker room.
Until Washington's Alexander Semin scored in the final minute, not long after missing a penalty shot, this game resembled that earlier game with more tight checking and hitting than goal scoring by teams that have five of the NHL's top six scorers who are 22 or younger.
"When Ovechkin gets only one goal in seven games, it's tough to win," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said after his team outshot Pittsburgh 31-25. "Don't mistake that -- it's not his fault we're not winning. But if you're asking where the offense has gone, he's a big part of that."
The Capitals have lost three in a row and nine of 12, scoring two or fewer goals in all but three of those 12. Penguins backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault beat them Sunday in his first start since Jan. 27, turning aside 29 shots for his third victory this season.
Talbot made it 3-1 about a minute into the third period with his third goal in four games, immediately after Washington's Donald Brashear pulled down Erik Christensen for what would have been a penalty if Talbot hadn't scored.
Semin could have tightened the game by scoring on his penalty shot with about six minutes remaining, but his shot hit the crossbar after Thibault tried pushing the puck off his stick as Semin went to his backhand.
"It was a great feeling to not let that score in," Thibault said. "I don't know if I disrupted him or not, but he didn't score."
|In his first start since Jan. 27, goalie Jocelyn Thibault stops 29 shots to gain his third win. (AP)|
|Pittsburgh (32-17-9) «||1||1||1||3|
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|05:59||Power Play - Mark Recchi (20), Snap Shot - Assists: Sergei Gonchar, Sidney Crosby|
|07:04||Richard Zednik (6), Slap Shot - Assists: Jeff Schultz, Donald Brashear|
|18:44||Evgeni Malkin (29), Slap Shot - Assists: Sergei Gonchar, Michel Ouellet|
|01:10||Maxime Talbot (9), Slap Shot - Assists: Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen|
|19:16||Alexander Semin (31), Slap Shot - Assists: Matt Pettinger, Eric Fehr|
|05:36||Schultz: Hooking - 2 min.|
|08:42||Christensen: Slashing - 2 min.|
|11:13||Jurcina: Holding - 2 min.|
|16:05||Semin: Hooking - 2 min.|
|16:05||Staal: Slashing - 2 min.|
|18:08||Bradley: Tripping - 2 min.|
|00:59||Eaton: Holding - 2 min.|
|11:07||Eaton: Hooking - 2 min.|
|SHOTS ON GOAL|
|Attendance - 17132|
|Referees - Tom Kowal, Mike Leggo|
|Linesmen - Pierre Racicot, Mark Shewchyk|