New faces help the Penguins beat the Capitals 4-1 and move closer to a playoff spot

Pittsburgh Penguins center Lars Eller (20) celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals with center Jeff Carter (77), defenseman Marcus Pettersson (28) and right wing Reilly Smith (19) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Washington. The Penguins won 4-1. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)


WASHINGTON (AP) — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin carried the Pittsburgh Penguins back into contention with starring performances over the past couple of weeks.

When they were held off the scoresheet Thursday night in arguably the team’s biggest game of the season, a handful of new faces stepped up to deliver a 4-1 victory at the archrival Washington Capitals. Alex Nedjelkovic led the way with 30 saves, Ryan Shea scored his first NHL goal, Michael Bunting got his fourth since joining in a trade and Pittsburgh moved closer to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I think that’s a characteristic of a really good team,” said Nedjelkovic, who made five saves alone on an important late penalty kill. “Everybody finds a way to step up. Everybody finds a way to chip in.”

With a third consecutive victory, the Penguins moved two points back of the Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, who with their win at Columbus jumped the Capitals, bumping them out of the East’s second and final wild-card spot. The Penguins, who were nine points out on March 24, have won five of six to get right back in the thick of the race.

“It doesn’t really change, I think, as far as what we have to do,” said Crosby, whose six-game point streak when he put up 15 total ended. “We’ve just got to continue to keep playing this way, give ourselves a chance and, yeah, I think that’s our approach.”

Shea’s goal 25 games into his rookie season was also his first point in the league, Bunting continued to show why Pittsburgh got him back in the trade that sent Jake Guentzel to Carolina, and Nedjelkovic in his seventh start in a row continued to show why he has at least temporarily supplanted Tristan Jarry as the Penguins’ No. 1 goalie and been a big reason they have a chance of returning to the playoffs.

“Ned is making the timely save for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I can’t say enough about his compete level and his composure. He’s got a certain demeanor back there. He’s got a quiet confidence about him and I think that rubs off on the group.”

Pierre-Olivier Joseph also scored and ex-Capitals center Lars Eller had an assist and an empty-net goal against the team for which he got the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 2018.

“We have belief and confidence in each other and just take one game at a time and keep trying to stay alive,” Eller said. “We have bad games once in a while, but there’s no quit.”

Despite Alex Ovechkin scoring on the power play for his 27th goal of the season and 849th of his career, the Capitals’ losing streak reached four, further endangering their chances of playing beyond the regular season.

“We’re still in the battle,” Ovechkin said. “We just have to keep fighting.”

Charlie Lindgren, whose goaltending has carried them for the past month or so, struggled in allowing goals on the first two shots he faced and three total, with his heaviest workload in the NHL appearing to take a toll.


Penguins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Capitals: Visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.


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