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PRO HOCKEY: Caps stand tall while staying hot
WASHINGTON—Not a single bit of hesitation went through Alex Ovechkin’s mind as he charged toward Jay McClement late in the first period. The Toronto Maple Leafs center had just shoved Nicklas Backstrom headfirst into the boards, and Ovechkin, protecting his Washington Capitals teammate, didn’t waste any time in drawing a penalty and standing up for his teammate.
“The guys said they were going to kill it all day long,” Ovechkin said. “I think it shows the character of the team and it shows that everyone cares about each other.”
That kind of confidence and that type of teamwork led the Capitals to where they stood Tuesday night: the winners of their eighth consecutive game, a 5–1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.
Ovechkin and Martin Erat each had a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby had 29 saves for Washington (24–17–2), which soundly defeated a team square in the Eastern Conference playoff picture—an encouraging sign with the regular season ending next weekend.
The Capitals entered Tuesday having won only four of 16 games against the other seven teams on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs. Toronto, in fact, could have clinched its first postseason appearance since 2004–05 with a victory and help from other teams in the conference.
The Maple Leafs (24–14–5) never had a chance—even before Ovechkin was called for charging and McClement got off with nary a whistle. Washington’s penalty kill unit did a masterful job, allowing Toronto only two shots on goal and keeping them out of the offensive zone for an extended period of time.
When Jason Chimera headed to the penalty box with 38.9 seconds remaining in the first for fighting McClement—a prolonged battle that neither player won—the score had been settled.
“We’re a great group of guys and we stand up for each other, I think,” Backstrom said. “Ovi’s on my line, and then after that Chimmer, when he asked him [to fight]—I think it’s great that we’re standing up for each other.”
Jack Hillen scored his third goal in four games 14:27 into the first period before the floodgates opened in the second. Martin Erat scored his first goal since being acquired by the Capitals in a deadline deal with Nashville on April 3, redirecting a shot by Ovechkin from the left point past Ben Scrivens just 5:03 into the period.
Troy Brouwer added his third goal in as many games on a three-on-one nearly three minutes later, putting the puck five-hole on Scrivens with a deft backhand.
And Ovechkin capped off the deluge with his league-leading 28th goal and 15th power play goal, unleashing a one-timer off a pass from Mike Green just shy of the 14-minute mark. It was the first time in seven games, and 26 opportunities, that Toronto had not killed off a penalty.
Mikhail Grabovski broke the shutout 3:05 into the third period by redirecting Ryan Hamilton’s wrister in the slot between Holtby’s legs, but there would be no repeat of Washington’s collapse against Tampa Bay on Saturday: Marcus Johansson scored a power play goal midway through the period to cap the scoring.
Scrivens had 32 saves for the Maple Leafs, who had won four of their previous five games. Joffrey Lupul returned for Toronto after missing five games with concussion symptoms and took only three shots.
Winnipeg, the only team still battling Washington for the Southeast Division title, trails by four points after a 4–3 shootout victory over Tampa Bay. Still, the Capitals need just five points over their final five games to clinch their fifth division title in six years.