PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin isn’t one for nerves. And yet they came anyway as the weeks crept by and the Pittsburgh Penguins star inched closer to 1,000 career points.
A pep talk from coach Mike Sullivan helped. So did the return to form of one of the NHL’s most formidable power plays, one that pushed Malkin to the lofty milestone and lifted the Penguins past the Washington Capitals 5-3 on Tuesday night.
Malkin collected a pair of secondary assists with the man advantage — the first one on a Sidney Crosby one-timer that capped a frantic flurry in the second period, the second on Phil Kessel’s second goal in six weeks — to become the 88th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points and help Pittsburgh snap Washington’s seven-game winning streak.
“It’s like a little bit slow but it’s finally over, 1,000,” Malkin said. “I breathe normally. Thanking my teammates. Special day for my family, my friends. Like I play hockey all my life you know, it’s amazing to be here and win here against Washington. A special day for sure.”
Malkin’s teammates mobbed him in the corner as the 32-year-old forward who has played 1B to Crosby’s 1A for much of his career tried to drink in the moment as the sellout crowd, including owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, rose in unison.
“Making 1,000 points is crazy number for sure you know,” Malkin said. “I grow up in small city and never think I play in NHL and score like, 1,000 points.”
Crosby collected his 32nd and 33rd goals during Pittsburgh’s second-period outburst. Jake Guentzel started Pittsburgh’s comeback with his team-leading 35th of the season after Jared McCann stripped Washington center Evgeny Kuznetzov for the first of three goals in 107 seconds.
“We get that one, got a huge boost,” Crosby said. “It’s been a while since we scored in bunches like that. That’s important. That’s fun.”
Kessel and McCann both added a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who have won six of eight. Matt Murray stopped 38 shots as Pittsburgh topped the rival Capitals for the third time in four meetings this season and moved within four points of Washington in the claustrophobic Metropolitan Division.
Jakub Vrana scored twice for the Capitals. John Carlson collected his 11th and Alexander Ovechkin picked up an assist to become the 48th player in NHL history with 1,200 career points. Braden Holtby made 25 saves but briefly came undone during Pittsburgh’s decisive push in the second.
“I thought we gave this one away, to be honest with you,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. “They got one there and they get some energy from that, and they just kept going. That’s something we’re not happy about.”
The reigning Stanley Cup champions came in unbeaten since Feb. 23, a stretch that vaulted them to the top spot in the Metropolitan. Ten months removed from a dramatic Game 6 overtime victory in the conference semifinals last spring that served as the springboard to their first championship, the Capitals spent the first 30 toying with the Penguins, smothering the Penguins offensively and riding Vrana’s marksmanship to a 2-0 advantage.
The momentum Washington spent half a game building vanished shortly after Vrana’s wrist shot bounced off Murray’s blocker, over the goaltender’s head, off his back and into the net for a two-goal lead.
McCann’s deft strip of Kuznetsov set up a 2-on-1 with Guentzel, who fired into the open net to make it 2-1. Crosby tied the game 47 seconds later, collecting a Justin Schultz flip pass that soared over the entirety of the neutral zone before it landed at the end of Crosby’s stick. Pittsburgh’s captain held off two defenders while slipping the puck between Holtby’s legs.
Backstrom was called for tripping Malkin shortly after Crosby evened it up, and Crosby capped Pittsburgh’s outburst by finishing off a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe that started with Malkin feeding it to Kessel, who then fed a wide-open Crosby.
“We know that they play that way,” Holtby said. “They don’t waste any shots. They don’t waste any opportunities. ... Sometimes you just have to stick with it and just came up a little short.”
Kessel’s second goal since Jan. 30 11:16 into the third period put Pittsburgh up 4-2. Malkin earned the secondary assist to join Crosby, Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Toronto’s Patrick Marleau as the only active members of the NHL’s 1,000-point club.
NOTES: Carl Hagelin, who helped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, played 13:13 in his return to Pittsburgh. Hagelin was shipped to Los Angeles in November before being sent to Washington at the trade deadline. ... Penguins D Kris Letang missed his eighth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Pittsburgh F Zach Aston-Reese sat out with a lower-body injury.
Capitals: Continue a four-game road trip on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Penguins: Travel to Buffalo on Thursday to face the Sabres. Pittsburgh lost each of its first two meetings with Buffalo in overtime.