- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

ATLANTA — The Washington Capitals were less than nine minutes from their playoff hopes being all but dashed.

Alex Ovechkin, as he has on so many occasions this season, rescued them.

Ovechkin had two goals, including his 60th of the season, and set up two more to propel the Caps to a 5-3 come-from-behind victory against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena.

“I thought in the third period he said ‘Listen, just get on my back and we’re going to go,’ ” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought he was phenomenal.”

The Caps, who had not won a game all season when trailing after 40 minutes (0-25-2), faced a 3-1 deficit entering the final period, but the top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov dominated. Washington outshot Atlanta 23-2 in the period, and that trio had 10 of them.

Video:Ovechkin’s 60 goals, from WashingtonCaps.com

The milestone goal came at 11:30 of the period. After a wild flurry in the offensive end, Ovechkin pounced on a rebound in a scrum in front of the net to make it 3-2.

Ovechkin now shares the franchise record with Dennis Maruk, who had 60 in 1981-82. The 22-year-old Russian is the 19th player in league history to hit the plateau and the first since Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did so in 1995-96.

“It is always fun to score goals, but especially when it is important goals,” Ovechkin said. “It was a very important goal for my team. The guys know if I don’t score and somebody else score I will be happy too, but 60 is 60.”

Backstrom tied the game 3-3 with 4:00 left on a pass from defenseman Mike Green. Ovechkin hit Backstrom with a pass from behind the net 32 seconds later for a one-timer to complete the comeback.

The Caps mobbed each other in the corner and bounced up and down almost in unison like a baseball team after a walk-off win, while Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen kicked a lost piece of equipment in frustration. Boyd Gordon added an empty-netter — which Ovechkin assisted on — in the final seconds to end any doubt.

Ovechkin has 20 goals in 24 career games against the Thrashers, five more than he has against any other NHL team. His 40 points against Atlanta are 13 more than his second most-victimized opponent. The four-point night also gives Ovechkin 106 this season, which ties his output from 2005-06.

“I just like Lehtonen,” Ovechkin joked. “We just started working [in the third period]. With our team it is all about work. If we want it, we can always beat the other team. We started to play in the third. We dominated them, and they didn’t have chance to score.”

It appeared to unravel for the Caps during an awful second period. Thrashers rookie Tobias Enstrom tied the game 1-1 at 4:11 on the power play, and then career grinder Jim Slater went to work.

Eric Perrin picked off a pass with Washington on the power play and sprung Slater on a short-handed breakaway. Neither Ovechkin nor Green could catch him, and Slater slipped a shot through Caps goalie Cristobal Huet’s legs at 7:57.

Perrin threw a pass in front of the net later in the period and Slater missed it at first, but he put a shot off Huet into the short side of the net for his sixth goal of the season.

The Caps were in danger of losing to a team that had lost 14 of 16 and was six points closer to the worst record in the NHL than they were to the playoffs. But they responded with one of their best periods of the season.

“It is big win for us,” Ovechkin said. “We just said, ‘Hey guys, this is our chance and we can’t stop.’ We fight for this all year and we couldn’t just let it go.”

With the win the Caps moved to within one point of idle Boston for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but the Bruins have two games in hand. Washington is also two points back of Philadelphia for seventh, though the Flyers have one extra game to play.

“I thought we were pretty bad in the second and we knew pretty well that if we didn’t come home with two points in this game it was going to be a real uphill climb to make the playoffs — not that it already isn’t,” Boudreau said.

Notes — Left wing Donald Brashear missed the game with what Boudreau termed a lower body injury, but he could return Tuesday at Carolina. Eric Fehr returned to the active lineup to replace Brashear. Defenseman Steve Eminger also rejoined the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past nine games, replacing Sami Lepisto.

Last night at Philips Arena in Atlanta

QUOTABLE

“We have competitive guys. At this point of the year, you have to play through whatever you have to play through. Hopefully that won’t be the determining factor in the game.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on missing tough guys Donald Brashear and John Erskine

BY THE NUMBERS

401Shots on goal for Alex Ovechkin this season before last night’s game — only the second 400-plus season in team history. His 425 in 2005-06 is the other.

PROSPECT UPDATE

Mathieu Perreault, the Caps’ sixth -round pick in the 2006 draft, was named offensive player of the month for March in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Perreault, who wrapped up the league’s scoring title and could be in line for his second straight MVP award, had four goals and 12 assists in seven games for Acadie-Bathurst.

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