For the second consecutive game, the Washington Capitals squandered a two-goal lead on home ice.
But the Atlanta Thrashers are not the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Caps put forth a better closing effort to finish off a 4-3 victory Thursday night at sold-out Verizon Center.
“We’ve struggled the last couple of games at home, and we needed to get back on the winning wave,” right wing Eric Fehr said. “We’ve got a little bit of momentum going into Boston [on Saturday]. It’s going to be a big test.”
After their 2-0 advantage disappeared, Mike Green put the Caps back in front with the team’s third power-play goal of the night. Atlanta took four consecutive penalties in the middle period, and the Caps cashed in on the third one.
Green took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and blasted a shot from the right point past Kari Lehtonen with the help of a screen from Sergei Fedorov at 12:25 of the period. It was Green’s 23rd goal of the season, which leads all NHL defensemen, and his 16th on the power play, which is more than any player in the league at any position.
His 16 extra-man goals also tie the franchise record for a defenseman in a season, which was first set by Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Stevens.
“He’s a good player,” Boudreau said of Green. “Before he’s done he’s going to break a lot of records. … I’ve got to lasso him sometimes to get him back because he’s like a fourth forward. When he comes from behind and he’s playing defense [first], he’s very good.”
Fehr made it a 4-2 contest early in the third period, and the Caps held off a late rally from the Thrashers to remain two points ahead of New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference.
The 2003 first-round pick continues to show the ability that made him a sought-after prospect. Fehr now has 12 points in 13 games and 10 goals in 41 games this season.
“I don’t know if it is really a run - I’ve just been trying to play hard, and I’ve had a couple of lucky breaks,” Fehr said. “Today’s shot wasn’t really a hard one, but it found a corner. I’m trying to get as many as can to finish off the season.”
Michal Neuvirth stopped 21 of 24 shots in his second NHL start to remain perfect. Two of the goals were essentially breakaways, including Atlanta’s third goal - a short-handed tally by Todd White with 1:57 remaining in the third.
Neuvirth spent long stretches of the game without much to do because the Caps spent so much time on offense. Washington outshot Atlanta 40-24, but the gap was wider until a flurry in the final minutes by the Thrashers.
“[Neuvirth] is a great young goalie,” Green said. “What’s so great about him is he’s so calm. Most young guys are really tense, but he is very calm, and I think that’s why he is going to be very good when he gets older.”
Both of the Caps’ 20-year-old goaltending prospects, Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov, have won both of their starts for Washington this season.
The Caps struck twice in 53 seconds on the power play early in the first period. Alexander Semin tapped the puck past defenseman Tobias Enstrom to himself on a rush up the right wing and then ripped a shot past Lehtonen at 4:27 for his 23rd of the season despite a slash from Thrashers forward Eric Perrin.
Perrin went to the box, and Washington capitalized at 5:20. Green’s shot trickled behind Lehtonen, and Brooks Laich darted into the crease to sweep it across the line for his 15th goal of the season.
Atlanta got on the board late in the first period after a controversial play. Alex Ovechkin dropped to the ice after he was high-sticked by Thrashers forward Rich Peverley, but the officials didn’t see it. As Ovechkin skated to the bench, he stopped and went after Atlanta’s Marty Reasoner and earned a roughing penalty.
Ilya Kovalchuk one-timed a cross-crease pass from White past Neuvirth 33 seconds after Ovechkin went to the box. It was Kovalchuk’s 20th goal since Jan. 1 - one more than Ovechkin for most in the NHL.
Peverley leveled the score at 2-2 3:56 into the second period when a long breakout pass from Niclas Havelid sprang him for a breakaway.
Note - Viktor Kozlov returned to the lineup after missing nine games with a groin injury. He replaced Michael Nylander, who was a healthy scratch for the fifth time this season.