PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nic Dowd scored twice for the first multigoal game of his career, Braden Holtby stopped 26 shots and the Washington Capitals dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Saturday.

Nicklas Backstrom, Richard Panik and TJ Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who created a little breathing room over their longtime rivals in the scramble atop the Metropolitan Division. First-place Washington moved five points clear of third-place Pittsburgh with less than a month to go in the regular season.

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Sidney Crosby scored for the third straight game for Pittsburgh and Evgeni Malkin added his 22nd. Matt Murray finished with 21 saves for the Penguins but was undone by some sloppy defense in front of him during Washington’s three-goal, first-period blitz. Pittsburgh has dropped 7 of 9 to fall a little off the pace in the NHL’s most competitive division.

The Penguins had hoped a two-game winning streak following a six-game slide was a sign they had turned the corner. Yet they mustered little for long stretches against Washington. They had just nine shots through the game’s first 35 minutes despite an extended two-man advantage in the first period and by the time Crosby scored his 16th of the season 5:09 into the third, the Capitals were firmly in control.

Dowd hadn’t scored in two months but gave Washington the lead 1:52 into the first at the end of a pretty sequence. Panik chased down a loose puck in the corner and slipped it quickly to Garnet Hathaway, who sent a centering pass to Dowd all alone in the slot from point-blank range. Pittsburgh had a chance in the in the latter half of the first period but mustered all of one shot on Holtby during a 1:25 two-man advantage.

The missed opportunity cost the Penguins when Washington scored twice in a 2:23 span near the end of the period. Backstrom finished a textbook end-to-end rush in which all five Capitals touched the puck, Backstrom being the last as he broke in alone on Murray. Panik made it 3-0 when he capped a 3-on-2 break by punching one in from the doorstep. The early onslaught left the Penguins dazed, and there was no response in the second.

Pittsburgh’s best scoring chance came when Jared McCann was held on a breakaway attempt. Holtby stoned the chance and then turned aside the penalty shot McCann was awarded. When Dowd collected his seventh of the season 34 seconds into the third by slamming home a feed from Carl Hagelin on a shorthanded 2-on-1, the Capitals were up 4-0.

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Crosby and Malkin finally solved Holtby to help the Penguins generate a little bit of momentum, but Oshie’s 26th of the season put the exclamation point on an outcome that was never in doubt over the final 40 minutes.

NOTES: Holtby has now stopped 5 of 7 penalty shots in his career. … The Penguins made F Evan Rodrigues — acquired from Buffalo in a trade last week — a healthy scratch. Pittsburgh also scratched Ds Chad Ruhwedel and Juuso Riikola and Fs Dominik Simon and Anthony Angello. … Washington scratched D Radko Gudas and Fs Brendan Leipsic. … The teams meet for the final time in the regular season on March 22 in Pittsburgh. Washington currently leads the season series 2-1.


Capitals: Finish up a three-game road trip on Monday in Buffalo.

Penguins: Play their third game in less than 72 hours when they host Carolina on Sunday.


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