PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins had only one regret
after ending one of the worst seasons in their 37-year history:
They wish they could play another month or two.
Lasse Pirjeta scored two goals and the Penguins, despite
finishing last in the NHL standings for the first time since 1984,
ended their late-season surge by beating the Washington Capitals
After losing 18 straight games, the longest streak in league
history but not a record, the Penguins went 12-5-3 -- the greatest
turnaround by an NHL team in any season following a winless streak
of 15 games or longer.
The Penguins also were 6-0-2 in their final eight home games
after going 0-15-1 during a franchise-record, 16-game home winless
streak. That run included a league-record 14-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh (23-47-8-4) also had one of their best season-ending,
20-game streaks in their 37-year history. Only in 1992-93, when
their final 20 games included a league-record 17-game winning
streak, did they get more than 27 points in the final quarter of a
Pirjeta, an unproductive player in Columbus until being dealt
for Brian Holzinger at the trade deadline, helped lead the late
turnaround with six goals in his final eight games, including a
pair of two-goal games.
"We know it's going to be the same core group of guys the next
few years, so it's definitely encouraging to play this well to end
the season," rookie defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
The Penguins have a 48.2 percent chance of winning Tuesday's
lottery and getting the first pick in the NHL draft -- almost
certainly, Russian star Alexander Ovechkin. The last-place team
hasn't won the lottery since 1997. Chicago finished second and has
an 18.8 percent chance; the Capitals were third and have a 14.2
Pittsburgh traded up to get the first pick last season, goalie
Marc-Andre Fleury, and could become one of only three teams in the
last 30 years to draft No. 1 overall in consecutive seasons. Ottawa
(1995-96) and Quebec (1989-91) last did it.
"It (the closing stretch) has been great, but everyone wanted
us to finish last, too, so I guess everybody is happy -- except
us," Ryan Malone said. "Obviously, you want to be in the
After the game, the Penguins' Eddie Olczyk was given a standing
ovation by the near-sellout crowd.
"We've laid the foundation and now we've got to take the next
step," Olczyk said. "Sometimes we had to look past our
performance ... but we stuck to our plan and the young players got
to play in Game 1 and Game 82."
Milan Kraft scored the winning goal on a one-timer from the slot
with 2:38 remaining, less than 90 seconds after the Capitals' Jeff
Halpern stole the puck off defenseman Ric Jackman's stick in front
of the Penguins net to set up Brian Willis' easy goal.
Matt Bradley, who set up Kraft's goal, earlier put the Penguins
up 3-2 by scoring off Rico Fata's pass from the near boards.
Pirjeta scored in each of the first two periods off setups by
Aleksey Morozov as the Penguins opened leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2,
only to have the Capitals tie it each time.
The Capitals' mostly bad season included the jettisoning of most
Asked if he was glad the season was over, Brendan Witt said,
"The year, the awful year, yeah ... but as players we always enjoy
playing, and now it's going to take a few days to sink in it's
The 18-game losing streak wasn't a record because the
Penguins got one point for an overtime loss against St. Louis. ...
Dick Tarnstrom (52 points) is the first defenseman to lead the
Penguins in scoring. ... Malone (43 points) was chosen as the
Penguins' rookie of the year despite getting only two goals in his
final 17 games. ... Halpern set up each of Washington's last two
goals and had eight goals in his last 15 games. ... Kraft's goal
was his 19th. Of the Penguins' 27 skaters this season, 19 set
career highs in scoring. ... Penguins F Kelly Buchberger, who on
Friday ended an 86-game streak without a goal, was chosen as the
No. 1 star in what likely was his final NHL game. ... Penguins G
Sebastien Caron made 27 saves, including a stop of Witt during a
2-on-0 break with Craig Johnson early in the third period.
- Dan O'Rourke
- Rob Martell
- Angelo D'Amico