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Ovechkin pulls double duty in Capitals’ win

BY ZAC BOYER

WASHINGTON—It’s rare that Dale Hunter will play someone on two lines. He thought he had done it before, but after a brief pause Sunday night, the Washington Capitals head coach couldn’t recall a specific circumstance.

It didn’t matter to Alex Ovechkin. When he checked the whiteboard and saw his name listed on the first and fourth lines, he knew what was Hunter was asking from him.

“When you have that kind of opportunity, you can [get] messed up with it,” Ovechkin said.

He didn’t. Instead, Ovechkin extended his scoring streak to five games with a third-period slap shot, and the Capitals defeated the unimpressive Minnesota Wild 3–0 at the Verizon Center.

Ovechkin downplayed his success of late, even though he now has 36 goals and seven in the last five games.

There’s no denying, though, he’s come through for the Capitals (38–30–8) at a crucial time with just six games remaining and the team’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance on the line.

“It’s night and day,” winger Mike Knuble said. “We’re happy. All the guys are happy things are going well for him, because that means we’re all going to do well, too.”

The loss eliminated Minnesota (31–34–10) from playoff contention, keeping the Wild out of the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

It also meant the Capitals moved back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference on a tiebreaker by edging out Buffalo, which will be in Washington for a crucial game Tuesday night.

Braden Holtby had his third career shutout and first of the season for the Capitals, making 28 saves.

Jason Chimera scored Washington’s first goal 10:09 into the second period, and Mathieu Perreault added another on a power play not much more than five minutes later. Ovechkin’s backbreaker 8:31 into the third.

The goals by Chimera and Perreault were remarkably similar, with Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer, respectively, streaking down the right side of the ice and delivering crisp passes that their teammates slipped past Minnesota rookie Matt Hackett.

Ovechkin’s was just as indicative of his dominance over the past week. When Nate Prosser delivered a crushing hit on a streaking Marcus Johansson at the blue line, Ovechkin pulled in the puck before it squeaked away, used Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert as a screen and left Hackett, who had 20 saves, unable to make a play.

And by double-shifting, Ovechkin played 26:19 against Minnesota—his second-highest total of the season. It was a situation brought about by an undisclosed injury to forward Joel Ward and Hunter’s choice to play seven defensemen.

“Last game there I thought fatigue factor, and with seven D it gives them all a break,” Hunter said. “Not one individual is playing as much, so that’s basically what it was for the defense.”

Ovechkin, for his part, didn’t restrict himself to an offensive role. He also made what might have been the most crucial play of the game on defense.

With 5:52 to play in the second period, the Capitals led 1–0 and had just taken over on a power play. He dove in front of a streaking Mikko Koivu at the left face-off circle to block a shorthanded attempt.

“It means how much he wants to win,” Chimera said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. It says a lot about your character when you come back like that and make plays like that. Not just be relied [upon] to score goals, but relied [upon] in every situation, which is great.”

Holtby, who also played a strong game, likewise tried to downplay his contributions afterward. In starting three of the last four games after being recalled from the minor leagues to replace an injured Tomas Vokoun, he’s allowed only four goals on 89 shots and won two of three games.

Minnesota, which has lost 10 of its last 13 games, wasn’t going to provide the Capitals the strictest warm-up in advance of Tuesday’s showdown with Buffalo. But as Washington demonstrated Friday, when it squandered a three-goal lead to lose 4–3 in overtime to Winnipeg, victories are never a sure thing.

“We wanted to make sure we set ourselves up good for that game,” Chimera said. “We wanted to take care of business tonight. Guys were mentioning that it’s going to be a big game coming up on Tuesday and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be like a playoff game. Both teams need it and it’s going to be a fun game to play in.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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