A day after Washington Capitals’ forward Alex Ovechkin became just the eighth player to reach 700 NHL goals (in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils), the Capitals were involved in another significant game. That would be Sunday’s battle with their long-time rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams entered tied atop the Metropolitan Division with 80 points, so this had plenty of playoff implications in addition to the ongoing rivalry, and it was a national game airing on NBC. Washington wound up with a 5-3 home win, their first victory in their last five games, and a remarkable breakaway goal from Tom Wilson was crucial to that outcome.
Jakub Vrána put the Capitals on the board in the seventh minute of the first period, but the Penguins struck back with second-period goals from Patric Hörnqvist and Sidney Crosby. In the third period, though, with the teams playing four-on-four hockey following coincidental minor slashing penalties to Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, Wilson forced a turnover with a check near his own blue line on Marcus Pettersen, and Nicklas Bäckström then hit Wilson in stride with a pass. He broke in alone and deked Penguins’ goalie Matt Murray before firing a backhand home.
Whip breakaway! pic.twitter.com/x2A9f5HjBT
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 23, 2020
That’s a lovely goal, and it helped turn the tide of this one for the Capitals. Carl Hagelin then made it 3-2 Washington, and while Evgeny Malkin responded for Pittsburgh with a pretty deke-heavy goal of his own, T.J. Oshie put the Capitals ahead for good with less than 10 minutes left:
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) February 23, 2020
Hagelin then added a final-minute empty-net goal to seal the deal and give the Capitals the two points. And those points could matter; Washington now has 82 points from 62 games and sits atop the Metropolitan Division, while Pittsburgh is hot on their heels with 80 points from 61 games. And this was an important win for the Capitals, who had lost their last four games (one in overtime). There’s still almost a quarter of the season left, so who winds up on top of the division may change, but this was certainly a good moment for Washington to get a regulation win over their rivals after a series of disappointing losses.