Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Capitals Move Closer to Clinching Second

Despite another uneven effort, the Capitals took care of business in Atlanta, beating the Thrashers 4-2 to move to within a single point of clinching the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs thanks to a pair of points by Alex Ovechkin and unexpected help north of the border.

A big assist went to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who rolled to a 4-1 win over the Devils, paring New Jersey's margin of error to catch Washington to nothing with two games left to play for both clubs.

However, in the Art Ross Trophy race, Alex Ovechkin remained two points behind Evgeni Malkin with two games to play for both Russian Hart Trophy contenders, as the defending league MVP had a goal and an assist in the contest, while Malkin had a pair of helpers in Pittsburgh's 6-4 win in Tampa Bay.

Unlike Sunday, the Caps put together their best effort in the first period, building a 3-1 lead through 20 minutes and seemingly taking control.

Tomas Fleischmann scored his 19th goal of the season 8:20 into the contest, as his attempted centering feed went off Marty Reasoner's leg and past Thrasher netminder Ondrej Pavelec for a 1-0 Washington lead.

The Thrashers answered quickly to Fleischmann's tally, as Rich Peverly backhanded a shot on a break behind Simeon Varlamov just 1:08 later to even the game.

However, the Caps had an even faster response to that one. Viktor Kozlov backhanded in a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom to regain the lead just :28 after the Peverly goal, giving Washington a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Alexander Semin extended the lead to 3-1 from a feed from Alexander Ovechkin with 4:20 left in the period, as Semin took advantage of a falling Atlanta defenseman to score his 32nds of the season.

However, after that point, Washington began to sit back and let the Thrashers control play.

The Caps were outshot 10-5 in the second period, with Marty Reasoner tipping a Tobias Enstrom drive for the only goal of the middle frame with 1:05 gone. While Washington didn't help itself with some bad penalties (including a rare playing with a broken stick penalty on Mike Green), Varlamov did hold and the Caps held the lead into the second intermission.

The Capitals then were able to add some insurance halfway through the third, as a pair of Sergei Fedorov chances were stopped by Pavelec and then another was kept at the line by Zach Bogosian, but Ovechkin was able to stuff the puck for his 56th of the year with 9:18 gone in the third.

The Caps took a pair of penalties late, but didn't allow the Thrashers to get any closer and wrapped up the season series with a win in Atlanta.

The Caps play next Thursday in Tampa Bay, a team they have taken all five meetings with this season, and a single point from Washington in its final two games (or a single loss by the Devils) means a date with the sixth seed starting next week at Verizon Center. While Washington leads New Jersey by four points with two to play, the Devils still hold the tiebreaker over the Capitals since they would have more wins if the teams ended up tied, so the Caps still need a point gained or lost to secure the spot.

As for the Ross race, both the Capitals and Penguins are in action Thursday, with the Penguins facing the Islanders - who allowed nine goals in Raleigh Tuesday.

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