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Penguins, Capitals clash with East Division title at stake

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Pittsburgh and Washington both locked up playoff spots Thursday during the visiting Penguins’ overtime victory against the Capitals, with extra help from a Rangers loss. Now, both teams are tied for the top spot in the East Division and will battle again in Washington on Saturday night.

The Penguins now have 15 consecutive postseason appearances, and that’s the best active run in any North American professional sports league. Meanwhile, Washington is in the playoffs for the seventh straight season, and that’s the second-longest streak in team history.

The teams are deadlocked with 69 points after Jake Guentzel’s overtime goal gave the Penguins a 5-4 victory Thursday over Washington in a back-and-forth contest. Kasperi Kapanen led Pittsburgh (33-15-3, 69 points) with two goals as the Penguins locked up that playoff spot.

“These guys have competed extremely hard all year long to earn the privilege to compete for the Stanley Cup in the playoffs,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan. “I’m certainly proud of the group for what they’ve accomplished to this point. By no means are any of us satisfied. We understand that there’s a lot of work to do.”

The Capitals (32-13-5, 69 points) do have a game in hand over the Penguins, however. But Washington has lost five of seven meetings with Pittsburgh this season (2-1-4). For the Caps, three of the losses have come in overtime with one more in a shootout.

Defenseman Dmitry Orlov finished with a goal and an assist while Nicklas Backstrom added three assists, and Tom Wilson scored with 14.3 seconds left in the third period to force overtime.

But the Capitals still got the point for the overtime loss and clinched that spot in the playoffs.

“It’s good; we didn’t talk about it too much, to be honest with you,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was always a bigger picture than that we were talking about. It’s a hard league, and the whole objective is to qualify to play for the Cup, so that’s in the rearview mirror.”

Both teams will be dealing with injury issues. Alex Ovechkin missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury, and top defenseman John Carlson also was out with a lower-body injury. But the Washington Post reported Friday that both took part in the Capitals’ optional skate.

The Post said Ovechkin left the ice after about 15 minutes of work and had been there earlier as well while Carlson stayed on.

For Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin missed his 22nd consecutive game with a lower-body injury. He came on the trip and practiced during an optional skate Thursday but was a game-time scratch.

Also, Brandon Tanev did not play, and NHL.com said the team apparently does not see him coming back during the regular season due to an upper-body injury. He’s missed 13 games in a row.

Evan Rodrigues was being evaluated for a lower-body injury after a shot hit him in the first period. There was no update on his situation as of Friday morning.

But Frederick Gaudreau, who had sat out eight games due to a lower-body injury, returned and scored a goal in the win.

–Field Level Media

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