The Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday guaranteed postseason action for the once-beleaguered franchise, with help from two second-period goals by Ryan Whitney. It was Whitney’s second two-goal game of the season.
“It’s a great accomplishment. We’re proud of clinching the playoffs, but we want more,” said Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien.
“It’s pretty exciting to get in the playoffs. That’s been our goal all season,” Whitney said. “Just to know we would be playing in April, that’s one of our goals and we reached it tonight.”
Whitney scored the second and fourth Penguins goals, but it was Sidney Crosby’s second-period goal past a stickless Olaf Kolzig that was the most memorable.
Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer with 113 points, took the puck behind the net and tipped it past the sprawling Kolzig to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead at 6:21 of the second period. Moments before, the Penguins’ Gary Roberts slammed into Washington’s goalie causing Kolzig’s stick to sputter out of his hand, and settle to the right side of the goal.
“You just start to get low to the ice. I didn’t panic too much. I’ve played like that in practice,” Kolzig said. “I thought I had a chance to freeze (the puck), but it just got away from me. I’ve got to be a little tougher in front in those circumstances.”
In his second season, Crosby led his team to its fourth straight win this season over Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals. Crosby, the No. 1 pick in 2005, who assisted on Whitney’s first goal, scored two goals and assisted on three others against Washington this season. Ovechkin, the first pick in 2004, did not score a goal in four games against Pittsburgh this season, but had three assists.
Pittsburgh spotted the Capitals a 2-0 lead and then quickly called a timeout.
“We’re not playing right. I don’t think the focus was there,” said Therrien.
“(Therrien) just said that we’re not playing with enough desperation,” Crosby said. “We weren’t ready. He wanted to make sure we just got back to work.”
Alexander Semin scored Washington’s first goal when he took a cross-ice pass from Ovechkin and flipped a backhand past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with just under six minutes gone in the first period. Boyd Gordon gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead when he scored on the rebound of Matt Pettinger’s shot at 9:18 of the first.
The Penguins cut the lead to 2-1 on Michel Ouellet’s goal at 12:08 of the first. Ouellet scored on a rebound in front of the net.
Washington missed a key opportunity to extend its lead when Pittsburgh successfully killed a four-minute, high-sticking penalty by Jarkko Ruutu.
The Penguins tied the score at 2-2 when Whitney took a cross-ice pass from Crosby and slammed a slap shot from the left side past Kolzig. Whitney’s second goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 4-2 lead came at 15:52 of the second period. It was Whitney’s second two-goal game of the season – and the only Penguins goal not on a power play.
“We can’t take lots of penalties against this team,” Ovechkin said. “It’s our fault. We don’t have to take penalties.”
Milan Jurcina scored Washington’s final goal at 19:29. Already with a man advantage, Capitals coach Glen Hanlon pulled Kolzig with about two minutes to play.
Washington lost for the fourth consecutive time and has dropped 13 of the past 15.
Notes Pittsburgh’s Roberts was hit in the leg by a shot, but said he should play on Thursday in Boston. … Washington is 20-8-7 when scoring first. … All five Penguins scratches were healthy. The five Capitals who were scratched all were injured.