PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals still own the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the regular season, at least.
Dennis Wideman’s power-play goal 2:48 into overtime lifted the Capitals to a 3-2 victory Thursday night, extending their regular-season mastery over a post-season nemesis.
Washington is 12-1-2 in its last 15 regular-season meetings with Pittsburgh, including eight straight wins on the road.
“We got a little lucky, I think,” said Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom, who fed Wideman for the game-winner. “That’s hockey sometimes. It’s not always fair.”
The Penguins drew some blood, though. Penguins forward Arron Asham took down Washington’s Jay Beagle in a fight, then apologized for rubbing it in afterward.
He dropped Beagle with two punches in the third period, then spread his arms out like a boxing referee stopping a fight, as he skated to the penalty box with Beagle in a heap on the ice.
Asham followed it up by placing his hands on the side of his head to imitate someone sleeping.
Beagle’s face was bloodied and he had to be helped off the ice.
Pittsburgh has knocked Washington out of the Stanley Cup playoffs seven times in eight chances, though the Capitals have dominated the regular-season meetings over the last three years.
Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season and goalie Tomas Vokoun bounced back from a shaky debut with the Capitals to finish with 39 saves as Washington remained unbeaten (3-0-0).
“It’s a real tough building here, and (Vokoun) was the difference for us,” Mike Knuble said. “Even the first period, we finished down 1-0; it could have been three or four after the first. And then he made some big saves in the third, too, when they started to really gain some momentum and push back against us. He was a big factor tonight.”
James Neal scored twice and Evgeni Malkin had two assists for the Penguins, who took their first non-shootout loss of the season.
Pittsburgh again played without star Sidney Crosby, though the 2007 NHL MVP was cleared for contact earlier Thursday as he continues his comeback from concussion-like symptoms.
Crosby’s return remains uncertain, though the Penguins have been just fine without their superstar during the season’s first week, getting off to the franchise’s best start in 17 years.
They received a boost on Thursday from Malkin, who sat out the previous two games while dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee.
His presence seemed to energize the Penguins, who dominated the game for long stretches and outshot the Capitals 41-19. Malkin set up Neal’s second goal of the game with 3:45 left in regulation to tie it at 2.
“Geno came back and he was flying tonight,” Neal said.
Pittsburgh controlled the early portion of overtime before Jordan Staal went to the penalty box after tripping Ovechkin. The Capitals didn’t let their lone power play of the game go to waste, with Wideman taking a feed from Backstrom and rifling it by goalie Brent Johnson for his second goal of the season.
“It was a grinding game and we didn’t have any power plays, but we got our one and we made it count,” Wideman said.
Johnson finished with 17 saves and was only occasionally busy thanks to a defence that kept Washington’s high-powered attack in check for most of the game.
“We were great out there tonight in all areas of the ice and just to have a tough call like that late in the game in overtime, it gave them the momentum,” Johnson said. “It’s just one of those games that maybe we could have won, (if) we get a bounce here or there, but we’ve got a lot of games coming up.”
The teams wore patches honouring the 28 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players who died when their plane went down in western Russia last month. The game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off on nhl.com with the proceeds going to benefit the players’ families.
Malkin and fellow Russian Ovechkin participated in a ceremonial faceoff, with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux dropping the puck.
“I think it’s America showing respect, respecting the memories of the guys who were in the plane crash and for the Russians,” Ovechkin said. “It means a lot. It’s nice of both organizations and the NHL to do that.”
Malkin “won” the faceoff, then wasted little time getting to work when things started for real. He notched a point on his first shift, teaming up with Steve Sullivan to set up Neal and give Pittsburgh the early lead.
Washington tied it in the second when Knuble bulled his way to the net and the puck caromed off Pittsburgh defenceman Deryk Engelland and past Johnson.
Ovechkin, who came in with just one assist in Washington’s first two games, gave the Capitals the lead, deflecting in Mike Green’s shot from the point.
It looked as though that would stand behind Vokoun, who was lit up in a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay but responded with the kind of play the Capitals were looking for when they lured him away from perennial also-ran Florida.
“Last game I didn’t have a good game and the guys played an unbelievable game and pulled me through, and we won the game, and today hopefully I helped pull us to stay in the game,” Vokoun said. “That’s what the team is about. It’s not always going to be perfect. Not everybody is going to have their night.”
The game had an electric atmosphere for October, and the pre-game ceremony honouring the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl gave it some emotional punch.
The patch with the team’s logo was Malkin’s idea. The typically soft spoken all-star felt so passionately about it he approached coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero and stressed the importance of paying tribute. Bylsma called the response “amazing” and the effort did not go unnoticed by the KHL in Russia.
“The teams’ tribute to the Yaroslavl hockey club is testament to the remarkable bonds shared by all members of the global hockey family,” KHL president Alexander Medvedev said. “As we see tonight, great sports rivalries can be put aside when there is an opportunity to benefit those who are in need.”
NOTES: Washington D Roman Hamrlik tied Bobby Holik’s record for NHL games played by a Czech-born player at 1,314. … The victory was the 192nd behind the Washington bench for coach Bruce Boudreau, tying him with Ron Wilson for second on the team’s list behind Bryan Murray (343). … Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz had an assist in his first game after signing an extension to stay with the Penguins through 2014.