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Pens make it 10 straight

Matt Niskanen scored the game-winner seconds after Pittsburgh killed a four-minute penalty, Marc-Andre Fleury was magnificent in goal and the Penguins won their 10th straight game, beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.

The Penguins winning streak seemed to be in jeopardy midway through the third period when Matt Cooke was called for a double-minor for boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct after a hit on Alex Ovechkin.

Fleury, who had played a strong game to that point, was outstanding over the four minutes and the Pens managed to kill the double-minor, sending a roar through the sellout Consol crowd.

Just seconds after Cooke was out of the box, Niskanen intercepted a pass in the Washington zone and joined Sidney Crosby and Cooke in a 3-on-2. The puck came back to Niskanen, who powered a shot past Braden Holtby for a 2-1 Penguins lead, bringing the house down.

“I saw Sid was off to the races and was able to get it to him for a 3-on-2,” said Niskanen. “Cookie made a nice pass and I was able to get a shot.”

The game featured two stellar performances from the goaltenders, from the first period through the third.

Washington’s Holtby was on top of his game in the first period, making 11 saves, including shots by James Neal and Crosby during a mid-period surge when the Penguins dominated the Washington zone.

Fleury was Holtby’s equal in the opening frame, coming up big on consecutive shots by Eric Fehr and stopping Jason Chimera on a point-blank blast from the right circle.

The Penguins penalty kill finally allowed a goal when Alex Ovechkin rifled a rebound past Fleury midway through the second period for his 12th goal of the year, giving the Caps a 1-0 lead. The Penguins PK had killed 12 of the past 13 shorthanded chances against them before the Ovechkin goal.

Pittsburgh got an immediate chance to even things up when Chimera was called for a hooking penalty on Dustin Jeffrey. It took 1:56 of power play time, but the Pens took advantage when Paul Martin fired a slapshot past Holtby at 11:07 of the second period. The goal was Martin’s sixth, assisted by Crosby and Beau Bennett.

It was special teams that ultimately made the difference in the third period, as the Penguins four-minute penalty kill led directly to the game-winning goal.

“The two minor penalties were obviously a huge point in the game,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “A very dangerous power play. I think we had 15 guys step up on that power play, clearing the puck, blocking shots. Flower was fantastic on the PK, the fans were fantastic on the penalty kill. You could kind of feel the momentum there and it felt like it was going to end up in a goal.”

The Penguins improved to 23-8 with the win and improved their point total to 46, tops in the Eastern Conference and second only to the Chicago Blackhawks (51) in the NHL.

The Penguins are back in action Friday night on Long Island when the face the Islanders.

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