- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

Less than a week after two disheartening losses pushed the Washington Capitals to the periphery of the postseason race, a pair of victories has them right back in it.

Buoyed by two goals from Brooks Laich, the Caps throttled the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1 last night at Verizon Center for their second straight win.

“A lot of people had written us off. We were written off early in the season, too,” Laich said. “We still believe in here. We’ve had two great games here in the last couple days and there’s a lot of hockey left.”

The victory, coupled with Carolina’s 7-1 loss to Buffalo, moved Washington to within five points of the Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead. It also puts the Caps three points shy of the Philadelphia Flyers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and four back of the reeling Boston Bruins for seventh.

Philadelphia plays host to Boston today and the Caps entertain the Bruins at Verizon tomorrow afternoon.

“I just want no three-point game [between the Flyers and Bruins] and let’s just worry about ourselves,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don’t even know if we are practicing [today]. I just told them to meet at the rink and we’ll figure it out. When I say one day at a time, I mean one day at a time.”

Washington has dominated Atlanta the past two games, but goalie Kari Lehtonen carried the Thrashers to victories in both. The Caps made sure it didn’t happen a third straight time last night.

That scenario did appear to play out in the first period. Slava Kozlov put Atlanta in front on the team’s second shot at 11:41, and despite finishing the 20 minutes with a 13-2 advantage in the category for the Caps, the score was tied 1-1.

Laich continued his recent scoring binge a little more than three minutes after Kozlov’s goal. After Alex Ovechkin couldn’t connect on a centering pass from Viktor Kozlov, Laich collected the loose puck and snapped a shot past Lehtonen, who had gone down in anticipation of a shot from Ovechkin.

Another goal from Laich put the Caps in front 2:18 into the second period. A shot from Sami Lepisto, who was recalled earlier in the day from Hershey, was deflected by Matt Cooke and just trickled past the right post. Laich was there to backhand the puck back in front and off his left skate into the net before he and a Thrashers defenseman dislodged it.

“It is an old saying and I was told it as a kid, ‘If you want money, go to the bank. If you want bread, go to the bakery. If you want goals, go to the net,’ ” Laich said. “I was told that as a kid and it as really sunk in here the last two months.”

It was Laich’s 19th goal of the season — also his 10th in 12 games — and it was Lepisto’s first NHL point. The Caps missed a couple of chances to add to the lead when both Lepisto and Ovechkin rang shots off a post, but Cooke provided some breathing room at 14:41 of the period with a short-handed tally.

Sergei Fedorov put the puck out in front of Cooke, who outskated Ilya Kovalchuk to it and slipped it between Lehtonen’s legs for his ninth of the season and second since joining the Caps at the trade deadline last month.

Ovechkin made it a three-goal lead 1:07 into the third period. Four seconds after former Caps defenseman Ken Klee was sent to the penalty box for hooking Ovechkin, he netted his 57th of the season and 21st extra-man score of the year. Fedorov won the faceoff to defenseman Mike Green, who slid it over to Ovechkin for a one-timer.

The 22-year-old Russian now has the most goals in a season since Pavel Bure had 59 in 2000-01, and is one point from his second season of at least 100, which would make him the first Washington player to do so.

He also passed Bure for third all-time in goals in the first three years of a career. Ovechkin’s 155 now ranks behind only Wayne Gretzky’s 198 and Mike Bossy’s 177.

“We just keep going,” Boudreau said. “I just thought we were so determined tonight and they were a little bit tired from yesterday [a 6-4 comeback win against Calgary] that we kept getting it deep and wearing them down.

“It was as complete a game as we’ve played that I’ve seen.”

Caps report

Last night at Verizon Center

QUOTABLE

“When I play basketball I like making it rain from way out there. I don’t hit many though.”

— Caps forward Brooks Laich, who has scored the majority of his 19 goals from close range this season

BY THE NUMBERS

36 Points for Ovechkin against the Atlanta Thrashers — nine more than any other team in the league.

3 Seasons by a Caps player with more than Ovechkin’s 98 points this year — he moved into fourth place (behind Dennis Maruk in 1981-82, himself in 2005-06 and Mike Gartner in 1984-85) with an assist in the first period.

17 Games with at least 10 shots on net in Ovechkin’s three-year career — more than any other active NHL player.

Corey Masisak

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