BUFFALO — Washington Capitals winger Richard Panik chased down a loose puck in the corner early Saturday afternoon and swiftly dished it to Garnet Hathaway, who sent a centering pass to Nic Dowd all alone in the slot for a strike past Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray.

The perfectly executed passing sequence from the fourth line not only gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead just 1:52 into the first period of a 5-2 win against the Penguins, but marked Dowd’s first of two tallies of the afternoon for his first career multi-goal game.

It was also the start of a three-goal game for the team’s fourth line, after Panik scored his second goal in four games late in the first. Dowd’s second was a nifty shorthanded goal off some back-and-forth passing with Carl Hagelin only seconds into the third period.

“I think Richard has been outstanding with our fourth line, and Nic and Garnet are playing some of their best hockey of the year,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said.

The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline moved Panik down to the fourth line, and since Feb. 25, the line of Dowd, Panik and Hathaway has combined for seven goals in six games. Panik leads the team with seven points (two goals, five assists) during that span and is on a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists). Hathaway is on a three-game point streak (two goals, one assist) and has recorded three goals in his past six games.

The third and fourth lines have combined for 10 goals since Kovalchuk was added to the group. Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin and Kovalchuk have all recorded one tally since Feb. 25. Eller picked up a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, Hagelin scored against the New York Rangers on Thursday and Kovalchuk added his first goal as a member of the Capitals against the Rangers as well.

Eller has a career-best 39 points this season with 14 games to go. He has a goal and an assist over the past three games.

“I think [Kovalchuk’s] style of play has worked well with Lars and Hagelin and I’ve been able to move him up and down the lineup a little bit, too,” Reirden said. “It’s allowed us to spread it out a little bit."

Dowd and Hathaway finding their offensive stride in the past couple of weeks has allowed the fourth line to open up as a whole. The Capitals have scored four goals and allowed one when all three players have been on the ice at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. They are enjoying a 26-16 advantage in even-strength scoring chances over 38 minutes this season.

“I have a lot of credit to give Richard with how he’s reacted,” Reirden said. “I think there is a couple ways of looking at a situation like that and he is taking the proper thought on this one and he is taking advantage of it. Getting a different matchup than he would normally get and now he is taking advantage of it. Playing with a lot of confidence and making plays.”

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