- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Seventy-six days ago, the Washington Capitals arrived at Wachovia Center for a Friday matinee with the worst record in hockey and a coach making his NHL debut.

Last night, after their latest visit, Bruce Boudreau and his Caps flew home atop the Southeast Division.

Buoyed by the secondary scoring for which this team has searched for in recent weeks, the Caps defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 to move ahead of idle Carolina and Atlanta.

“We were here [the day after] Thanksgiving and a lot of people were writing us off,” said goaltender Olie Kolzig, who made 31 saves.

Added Boudreau: “We’ve changed in that we believe a little bit. We believe we’re a real good team now.”

It is an improbable feat given that this franchise has finished last in the Southeast the past three seasons and was an NHL-worst 6-14-1 when Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving. This is the latest the Caps have been in first place since March 14, 2003 — the last season Washington qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It is a testament to the guys — how hard we’ve fought and the job that Bruce has done,” forward Brooks Laich said. “It is a cliche, I guess, but you’re never out of it.”

Alex Ovechkin’s NHL-leading 46th goal appeared merely an insurance score but proved to be the game-winner. Ovechkin’s was the last of a three-goal barrage early in the third period that blew open a 1-1 game.

Mike Green’s slap shot from the right point ricocheted off Matt Bradley’s leg 2:01 into the final period to put Washington in front. It was Bradley’s third goal of the year and first in 17 games.

“[The coaches] have been talking to us about just going to the net and good things will happen,” Bradley said. “That happened tonight. And we have to contribute goals, too. It can’t just be [Ovechkin] scoring all the time.”

Washington kept attacking, and the new-look second line produced a goal for the second night in a row. Tomas Fleischmann left a short pass for Viktor Kozlov near the left faceoff circle, and Kozlov buried a wrist shot for his 11th of the season and seventh in nine contests just 1:04 after Bradley’s goal.

Ovechkin’s goal came 4:40 later when he put in his own rebound and celebrated by sliding into the right corner on his backside with arms and legs flailing in jubilation.

The Caps have been the NHL’s most dangerous team in 4-on-4 situations, and they capitalized again to open the scoring. With Ovechkin and Jim Vandermeer in the penalty box for a post-whistle scrum, Green sent a pass from the right wing to Laich, who was unmarked cutting toward the net.

Laich deked a couple of times before flicking a backhanded shot past Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron 2:31 into the second period. It was Laich’s ninth of the season — a career-high for the 24-year-old — and the team’s 11th 4-on-4 goal of the season. In regulation alone Washington has outscored its opponents 6-0 when each team is missing a skater.

“I think maybe it is our skating,” Laich said. “We have some guys that can skate so well and move the puck. Also our D-men — when you can put Mike Green and Tom Poti on the ice — they are guys who can jump up and give us a second wave of attack.”

Philadelphia possesses the second-best power play percentage in the league, but the Caps suppressed the Flyers’ first two chances. When the Flyers had their third chance — thanks to Quintin Laing’s second goalie interference in as many nights — they turned up the pressure and converted to tie the game.

Daniel Briere put a pass from the right corner in front of the goal, and Mike Knuble banged home the one-timer for his 21st of the season at 16:21 of the period.

Sami Kapanen scored for the Flyers with 6:10 left and Randy Jones added a 6-on-4 score in the final minute, but the Caps hung on.

“It is a testament to the character in this room that we never counted ourselves out,” Bradley said. “It is fun to be here, but we have a long road ahead of us.”

Last night at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia

QUOTABLE

“We’re doing what we can to get them back. We try to be exhaustive with everything we do. These guys are seeing the best doctors available, and we have to wait a little bit.”

— Caps general manager George McPhee on injured veterans Chris Clark and Brian Pothier

BY THE NUMBERS

50 Goaltenders scored on by Alex Ovechkin — Columbus netminder Frederik Norrena became victim No. 50 on Tuesday night.

10 Comeback wins for the Caps in the Bruce Boudreau era, with the same number of regulation losses in his 33 games.

296 Career wins for former Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall, who was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame during the first intermission last night, 24th on the all-time list.

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