PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Washington Capitals still run the Metropolitan Division. During the regular season anyway.
Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves and Washington celebrated star Alex Ovechkin’s 1,000th career regular season game by clinching their third straight division title with a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night.
Ovechkin was held without a point but it hardly mattered. T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson scored for Washington while Grubauer kept the NHL’s best power play in check as the Capitals assured themselves home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the postseason.
The Penguins have the top power play in the league but went 0 for 5 with the man advantage. Patric Hornqvist picked up his 27th of the season late in the third period to avoid a shutout. Matt Murray stopped 31 shots but couldn’t quite match Grubauer.
A night after earning a playoff berth for a franchise-record 12th straight year, Pittsburgh lost at home in regulation for just the second time since Jan. 4.
Ovechkin downplayed his milestone game beforehand, half-jokingly saying it didn’t matter much. The 32-year-old knows his career has been equally defined by his 603 goals and his team’s inability to make a deep playoff run.
Despite seven division titles and nine playoff appearances since he made his debut in 2005, Ovechkin has never played on a team that reached the Eastern Conference finals. Postseason success is the only thing that’s eluded him, but Washington appears to be peaking entering the final days of regular season.
The Capitals have won 10 of 12 to create some breathing space in the cramped and crowded Metropolitan, relying increasingly of late on the 26-year-old Grubauer and not Braden Holtby in net.
Washington coach Barry Trotz opted to give Grubauer his first career start against Pittsburgh and Grubauer responded brilliantly. He was at his best in the second period, when the Penguins’ lethal power play had four chances to draw even and came up empty each time, including an extended two-man advantage in which Grubauer received a little help from the crossbar when a shot from Evgeni Malkin clanged off the crossbar.
Grubauer added a spectacular glove save on Sidney Crosby from right in front in the third period, extending his left arm to rob Crosby on the doorstep.
The stop was the exclamation point on a night the Capitals looked every bit the equal of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Oshie provided an early lift when he took a pretty feed from Andre Burakovsky and beat Murray on the rush to give Washington the lead 6:25 into the game. Orlov pumped in his career-high 10th just after a Pittsburgh power-play expired, firing a shot from the slot that went between the legs of Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and over Murray’s right arm 13:46 into the second.
When Tom Wilson redirected Matt Niskanen’s shot from the point 23 seconds into the second period the Capitals were firmly in control.
Hornqvist got the Penguins on the board with 3:45 left but Washington skated off with another division title banner to hang in the rafters back home next fall.
Yet the one banner Ovechkin and the Capitals crave is the thing the Penguins have in abundance: the ones with a Stanley Cup on them.
NOTES: Washington went 0 for 4 on the power play. … Malkin was given a 10-minute misconduct with 1:01 left in regulation after mixing it up with Oshie. … Penguins C Derick Brassard missed his third consecutive game with a lower-body injury. … Ovechkin is the 57th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games for the same team and the 54th to have the first 1,000 games of his career come with the same club. … Pittsburgh is 9-7-2 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.
Capitals: Visit St. Louis on Monday. Washington beat the Blues 4-3 on Jan. 7.
Penguins: Get three days off before finishing regular season with a back-to-back starting on Thursday in Columbus.
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