The Washington Capitals continued their regular season mastery of rival Pittsburgh Penguins last night, turning a back-and-forth contest into a solid win with three third period goals and leaving town as 6-3 victors.
The win marks Washington's fourth regular-season win over Pittsburgh in the teams' last five meetings.
It also stretches the Caps' current winning streak to five games, and eight of their last nine. With 70 points, Washington holds a three-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings over New Jersey.
The particulars of the game are easy. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist. Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Nicklas Backstrom all tallied as well. Jose Theodore recovered from two early gaffes to turn away 32 out of the 35 shots he faced.
The Penguins' stars got theirs, too. Sidney Crosby got the game's first goal, a tap-in that Theodore lost sight of. Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko both had three assists. But in the third period, the Pens got steamrolled, despite outshooting the Caps 13-10 in the final stanza.
But this game was more than the accumulation of statistics.
It was about two heavyweight contenders taking shots at each other all night long until one could no longer answer the bell.
It was about two teams fighting for every possible point in the battle for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
It was about the best players in the world facing off on the same sheet and watching one elevate his game on a stage large enough that hockey highlights led off the evening's national sportscast.
Both teams were missing key parts, so it would be hard to describe this game as a possible playoff matchup.
But after last season's seven-game masterpiece and the pomp and circumstance surrounding last night's tilt, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone at NHL headquarters that would not want to see these two teams face each other in the Conference Finals in a couple of months.
Before that, though, there are still 30-some games to play, and three more matches between these two foes.
Just another game on the schedule? Yeah, right. Feb. 7 can't come soon enough.