- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

TORONTO — The Washington Capitals, some members of the Toronto Maple Leafs said, were snickering and laughing on their bench in the final seconds of last night’s game.

If that was the case — and no Caps players would admit to it — Toronto probably deserved some razzing. The Maple Leafs lost 5-3 to a team that hasn’t skated with a full NHL lineup for weeks, and it was the third time in four tries Toronto has been pushed aside this season by a Washington club playing for pride and experience.

The game ended with three Maple Leafs players in the penalty box, one of them former Washington first-round pick Jason Allison, who is minus-11 defensively with 10 goals, none against the Caps. He ignited a fracas with two seconds left when he tried to nail left wing Alex Ovechkin headfirst into the boards. This time teammates came to the rookie’s defense.

“There was two second left in game. I don’t know why he do it,” Ovechkin said. “He was disappointed we beat Toronto, I guess.”

If Toronto players were venting frustration at the end, there was ample reason. They had been outworked by a team with the reputation of doing just that. They were outhustled on a night that saw them fall further behind in the race for the last playoff spot. And they were beaten by some odd bounces, the kind that have been going against the Caps all season.

“There were a few bad breaks, sure, but that’s not why we lost,” Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. “We lost because we weren’t doing the little things you need to do to win.”

Washington stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes, but Toronto tied it before the first period ended. The Caps scored three unanswered goals in the second; Toronto scored none. The Maple Leafs added a meaningless score in the third.

The win broke a four-game losing streak and was just the third in the Caps’ last 11 games.

The difference last night was goaltender Brent Johnson, who was not spectacular but made the stops he had to, and the effort by the players in front of him. They gave him the support he needed by clearing rebounds and ensuring there were few second chances.

“Johnny played unbelievable, and our defensive zone play was unbelievable,” said left wing Matt Pettinger, who was rather unbelievable himself with a power-play goal plus his third short-handed score of the season.

One of the shots Johnson didn’t have to face was a slap shot on a power play taken by defenseman Bryan McCabe, who has one of the hardest shots in the league. Pettinger went down and slid across the ice to block the shot with his body.

“But we got a lot of good bounces tonight,” Pettinger said. “Ovechkin’s goal was a pretty lucky goal. Me getting my own rebound for a goal was another good break. If we don’t get those bounces, it’s a whole different game going into the third.”

“Yeah, it was a nice surprise having some of those breaks go our way,” Johnson said. “There wasn’t much [Eddie] Belfour could do on a couple of those goals.”

Notes — Well-traveled Maple Leafs center Eric Lindros played for the first time since Dec. 10, when he injured a wrist. … Defenseman Steve Eminger (sprained ankle) was Washington’s only medical scratch, the 147th man-game the Caps have lost to injury. Eminger is on the trip and took part in the full morning skate yesterday and spent more than an hour on the ice after the team left, the most positive sign for him since he was injured Jan.13 in Anaheim. As recently as Sunday he tried to skate but lasted less than 10 minutes. … The Caps practice at a suburban Toronto rink today, then charter to Ottawa for tomorrow night’s game.

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