Ovechkin nets game-winner against Panthers

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WASHINGTON | Suddenly, Alex the Great returned.

Alex Ovechkin collected the puck off the boards on a breakaway and zoomed up the left wing, then cut toward the net, his skates lifting off the surface as he powered in a shot. After tumbling onto his back and sliding in celebration, he rose to greet teammates for hugs, his red jersey smeared with white ice shavings.

Mired in a scoring slump that prompted his coach to try shuffling lines, Ovechkin scored Washington’s final goal with his customary flair, Mike Green and Eric Fehr also contributed two points apiece, and the Capitals edged the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Saturday night.

When a reporter made a reference to the “first Ovechkin-like goal he really scored,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau interrupted and finished the thought, saying, “In a long time, yeah.”

“So hopefully it’s a sign of things to come,” Boudreau added.

Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals twice in his first five seasons, and he also has been the league MVP twice. But he entered Saturday with only two goals in 12 games, and four in his past 23. He’s never scored fewer than 46 goals in a season, but he was on pace for only 28 at the midway point this season.

“My numbers are not that good or where they’re supposed to be,” he said. “But it’s the middle of the season, and there are 40 games left. We’ll see what’s going to happen at the end of the year.”

The Capitals as a whole have not been up to their usual go-go style, with only 22 goals in nine games before Saturday — an average slightly above 1½ per game.

Seeking a spark, Boudreau tinkered with his flashy forwards, switching Ovechkin from left wing — on a line with center Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble — to right wing — alongside rookie center Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich. Alexander Semin shifted from his usual spot at right wing on Laich’s line to left wing with Backstrom and Knuble.

Backstrom (16 games) and Semin (14) are on lengthy goal droughts.

“Eventually, you’ve got to believe that they’re going to score,” Boudreau said about those two. “They’re too good.”

The same must be said of Ovechkin, who looked out of sorts early Saturday. Indeed, Boudreau’s tweaks didn’t produce much: Washington was credited with five shots in the first period. By the second, the coach went back to the usual top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble. Semin swapped places with Ovechkin, but then left the game after the second period with a lower body injury.

On the struggles of the altered lines, Boudreau said: “I thought I’d at least get them back to where they’re comfortable and see how that goes.”

Pretty well.

After Ovechkin and Fehr assisted on Green’s power-play goal to snap a 1-1 tie with 6:52 left, Knuble and Backstrom set up Ovechkin’s 15th goal.

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