For the second time Sunday afternoon the Pittsburgh Penguins had let a lead slip away -- and the momentum along with it -- after John Carlson's wild goal tied the game at 4:03 of the second period.
Chris Kunitz and the Penguins wasted little time in responding though, as moments later Kris Letang and Kunitz scored just 37 seconds apart, sending Kunitz on the way to a hat trick and putting Pittsburgh ahead for good in an eventual 6-3 win against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.
The win puts Pittsburgh just one point behind the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Carlson's goal had seemingly turned the game on its head early in the second, when his clear from the neutral zone took a sharp bounce off glass and trickled into the net. Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun had already left the crease to play the puck behind the goal, but instead watched the Capitals celebrate a game-tying score. Carlson, skating to the bench for a change, had his back to the net when the puck went in.
"I really like our team responding to that bad bounce that happened on the wall," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "Now it's 2-2 - and our team responded well with the penalty kill and getting some goals."
The Penguins initially took the lead just 3:37 into the game when Paul Martin took the puck off a clean faceoff win by Sidney Crosby and wristed a shot from the blue line that was deflected past Washington goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby would make amends 56 seconds later by stoning Zach Boychuk twice on a breakaway. Just over half a minute later, the Capitals' Mike Green tied the game on a rising one-timer from the edge of the right faceoff circle.
Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the first period courtesy of a one-timer by Deryk Engelland that slipped through a screen put on by Matt Cooke, but the Penguins wouldn't take control of the game until Letang and Kunitz scored in the second period. Kunitz scored again at 13:59 of the second to put the game out of reach and capped the victory with his third goal of the afternoon with just eight seconds to go in the third.
Kunitz thought he scored four instead of three, saying he got his stick on the puck to redirect Martin's shot from the point in the first period.
"I didn't know they took the other one away from me," Kunitz said. "That's how it bounces. No one really cares around here. ... We're worried about the two points."
Mike Ribeiro scored his second goal of the season for Washington 3:33 into the final period. Vokoun finished with 21 saves on 24 shots to get the win for Pittsburgh. Holtby made 20 saves on 26 shots for the Capitals, who have lost seven of nine and remain seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division.
"I think the biggest thing is just our mental game right now isn't strong enough," Holtby said. "We're playing a good team game. It's just those little breakdowns, and like myself on that third goal."
We made a couple mistakes, but other than that, I thought we played a good, solid hockey game," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "Yeah, there's things we can do better, of course, and we'll address that, but I don't look at that game as that it got away from us, because we were playing well."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.