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Wilson scores winner on power play, Capitals beat Penguins

Tom Wilson scored the go-ahead goal on a power play with 7:20 left and the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Thursday night for their second victory in six games this season between the rivals.

Nicklas Backstrom scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season, and T.J. Oshie had one for the highlight reel in the third period when he dived one-handed to poke the puck past Tristan Jarry.

Wilson's tap-in on the power play helped Washington respond after blowing a 2-0 lead with back-to-back goals against 3 minutes apart.

Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) celebrates his goal past Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

“We felt good about our game, and when they scored those two goals, we didn’t want to change anything,” Wilson said. “We just wanted to bounce back, and good teams find a way through adversity. The response was good.”

Wilson was at the center of everything with and without the puck. The Capitals' bench got fired up when Evgeni Malkin knocked the puck out of Wilson's hands and kicked it away on a Pittsburgh power play; Wilson delivered a late hit on Mark Jankowski that earned him an interference penalty; and he exchanged words with a few Penguins players throughout the night.

That included calling Malkin a clown from the penalty box while defending his hit. Wilson said Malkin “just came over to have a chat. When it’s that quiet in there, you can have those conversations.”

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, celebrates his goal with left wing Jakub Vrana (13) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

“I thought it was a great hit, but I haven’t watched it at all in live time,” Wilson said. “He batted it out of the air and I finished him through the body right after. I think that’s a great hockey play, and I’ll watch the replay.”

Scoring his seventh goal of the season only made him more unpopular with the Penguins and their fans. Jankowski returned for the second period after a brief absence, and his teammates and coach Mike Sullivan wouldn't take the bait on questions about Wilson.

“Obviously, we saw the play develop and what happened, and the refs thought it was a penalty and they made the call,” forward Brandon Tanev said. “It’s not in our control, it’s up to the refs and their judgement and what they want to do in the situation. So we just got to continue to play the game and play the game the right way.”

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) defends against Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller each scored an empty-netter, and Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek made 26 saves in his 16th start of the season. Tanev scored on him short-handed and Jake Guentzel tied it at even strength before Vanecek made four more saves the rest of the way.

“My mind was quiet,” Vanecek said. “I just keep working hard and get ready for another shot. But the guys work hard and we score in the power play.”

Jarry allowed three goals on 33 shots. Pittsburgh's power play went 0 for 4 with just four shots on goal.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) reaches for the puck against Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

“I just think we passed up opportunities to shoot the puck,” Sullivan said. “We had a significant amount of zone time, and it didn’t translate into as many plays at the net that I think we could have, and usually when we put more pucks in play, we create off of it.”

The Capitals are 4-1-1 in their past six games and are tied with Boston with 24 points.

"We are playing better hockey," Vanecek said. "It’s great to (be) watching them before me, how they’re playing.”

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) skates with the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph (73) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

SEE YOU WAY LATER

These two teams aren't scheduled to face off again until April 29 in Washington. They've completed all four of their games in Pitsburgh.

PENGUINS INJURIES

Sullivan said winger Jason Zucker will be out “longer term” with a lower-body injury. Zucker was injured Tuesday night when his right skate slid into Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen's right skate, and he had to be helped off the ice.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) tries to skate away from Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Asked after the game if he expected Zucker to be back before the end of the regular season, Sullivan paused and eventually said the team is “hopeful” of that and reluctant to put a time frame on the recovery process.

Forward Jared McCann missed his seventh consecutive game with a lower-body injury. McCann has been cleared for contact and is expected to return soon.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) battles for the puck against Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Penguins: Visit the New York Islanders on Saturday night for the first of two consecutive games on Long Island.

Capitals: Play the first of two in a row at New Jersey on Saturday. Washington is 1-3-2 in day games this season, with that one victory coming at home against the Devils.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, hits Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci (4) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. At left is Penguins left wing Brandon Tanev (13). (AP PhotoNick Wass)

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) defends against Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) catches the puck during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci (4) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, wears a warmup jersey with a Players Against Hate end racism shoulder patch as he warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie wears a warmup jersey with a Players Against Hate end racism shoulder patch as he warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci (4) and defenseman Marcus Pettersson (28) battle for position with Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) checks Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson, center, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) looks on. (AP PhotoNick Wass)