Washington Capitals coach Spencer Carbery called Thursday's tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins the team's “biggest game of the year” — but it was Sidney Crosby and co. who came out on top in a critical matchup at Capital One Arena.

The Pens beat the Caps 4-1, in the process moving to just one point back of the final wild card berth in a crowded Eastern Conference.

A massive point in the game came at 3-0 in the third, when Washington was awarded a nearly two-minute 5-on-3 advantage. Pittsburgh was able to kill it off, and although they surrendered a goal shortly after, the captain knew it was a game-breaking moment.

“I thought to get the lead was nice, and I thought we did a really good job in that 5-on-3,” Crosby explained, per team reporter Michelle Crechiolo. “Obviously they get one late, but I thought we made some really good plays… I thought that gave us a lot of momentum. Even though they got one, we stayed on our toes.”

“I thought everybody knew the stakes in here,” echoed forward Bryan Rust. “I thought we played really hard… I thought we had a really good effort. We had a really smart game where we were good defensively. Didn’t really give them much.”

Can the Penguins actually make the playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates with Penguins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (39) after their game against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, the Pens were mired in a stretch that saw the team lose eight of 10 games. They had fallen back to .500 at 30-30-10 and looked ready to miss the postseason in back-to-back campaigns for the first time since Crosby joined the club back in 2006.

Fast forward to April 5 and Pittsburgh has won five of six games, including convincing wins in New York against the Rangers (5-2), in Newark against the Devils (6-3), and Thursday's 4-1 triumph in the nation's capital.

One of five teams battling for two playoff spots, the Penguins look like they have as good a chance as any team to get in. And that's especially true the way the roster is playing lately.

“I couldn't be happier for the players. I think they're having a lot of fun right now. They're competing. They're battling hard,” said head coach Mike Sullivan, per Crechiolo. “It's not perfect, but I love our energy, our enthusiasm. Our compete level is fun to watch.”

“We have belief and confidence in each other, and just take one game at a time and keep trying to stay alive. No quit in this group,” explained Lars Eller, who scored a goal and added an assist in the triumph.

Now 35-30-11, the Penguins are one point back of the Capitals and Detroit Red Wings, and just two back of the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers. With six games left in the regular-season — and four of them against playoff-bound opponents — it's not going to be easy.

But Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins look rejuvenated at the perfect time, and with a wealth of experience throughout the roster — and continued hot play from goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (now 5-0-2 in seven straight starts) — is it possible for a team that's been out of the conversation for months to find a way to advance to the dance in the waning days of the season?

We'll find out very soon.