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Pro Hockey: OT win over Hurricanes keeps Capitals’ playoff hopes alive

BY ZAC BOYER

WASHINGTON—That familiar gap-toothed grin spoke volumes for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

A one-timer sent his way from Dmitry Orlov from the high slot with 50.3 seconds left in overtime sailed into the Tampa Bay net, allowing the Capitals to take a 3–2 victory in a game that many players later said was treated as a last attempt to salvage their season.

“Sometimes when you have to win and you deserve to win, you lose the game,” said Ovechkin, who scored his 12th career overtime goal and celebrated by marching down the boards, smiling ear-to-ear. “And sometimes when you don’t have to win and you don’t deserve to win then you win the game. It’s back and forth, back and forth, but it is what it is right now.”

Keith Aucoin and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Capitals (33–28–6), who entered a five-game, 10-day homestand last Tuesday with a chance to make significant progress toward claiming a playoff berth.

They won the first game, Feb. 28, against the New York Islanders in overtime, then lost each of their next three—including a stumble Tuesday against Carolina that also went to extra time.

Washington didn’t look as though it would be able to even push the game past the third period during a significant portion of the second, when it went just over 16 minutes without even taking a shot.

But the Capitals assaulted Tampa Bay’s rookie goalie, Dustin Tokarski, in the third, outshooting the Lightning 12–3—including a streak of 11 unanswered shots. Johansson’s goal, which tied the score at two with 3:58 to play, froze the rookie, with Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman’s attempt at clearing the puck being corralled at his own blue line by Dennis Wideman, who then gave it to a streaking Johansson for the blistering wrister.

The period was a stark contrast to the second, when sloppy, uninterested play was met with a stern lecture from coach Dale Hunter at the second intermission.

“There was too many turnovers and he told us to try to stop trying to use our skill and impose our will a little bit—with a few more colorful comments in between,” forward Brooks Laich said. “That was the gist of the message—and he was right. We had to get pucks in and we had to be physical, and I think in the end we were.”

The Lightning (31–29–7), who entered the game two points back of the Capitals after winning seven of their previous 10 games, answered Aucoin’s fluke deflection goal late in the first period with two power-play scores in the second. The first, by Ryan Malone, may have been kicked into the net 7:25 in; the second definitely was, with Teddy Purcell getting credit for a goal that went off of John Carlson’s left skate with 1:18 left.

Tokarski, recalled by Tampa Bay on Wednesday after starter Mathieu Garen tore a groin muscle earlier this week, stopped 30 shots. Tomas Vokoun, on the other side, stopped 24 in his first appearance since allowing four goals on 11 shots against Ottawa on Feb. 22.

In a physical game, the aggression hit its peak midway through the second period when Capitals defenseman Mike Green checked Tampa Bay rookie Brett Connolly into the boards behind the Washington goal. Orlov was already riding Connolly when Green hit him, slamming his right side into the forward’s head.

Green, who was not penalized, did not comment after the game, but Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said the league “has to look at” the hit, which could draw discipline.

The Capitals have 15 games remaining, including five of their next six on the road. The playoff picture won’t be clear any time soon; Tampa Bay is charging and plays its next seven at home, while Florida, the Southeast Division leader, and Winnipeg are also in the hunt.

But the victory did give the Capitals a bit of a breather— and finally reason to smile.

“We felt coming into this game that it was going to be our season, and if we could get two points tonight, it was going to put us in a good spot to contend for a playoff spot here,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “If we weren’t able to get these two points, we’d be on the outside looking in, and a real tough place to get back in.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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