Thursday, March 30, 2006

RALEIGH, N.C. — Alex Ovechkin had a goal last night, his 48th, but that’s pretty much expected from the Washington Capitals’ stellar rookie.

But last night was a time for others on the Caps’ roster to shine as Washington rolled to a 5-1 victory over Carolina at RBC Center. The win marked the third straight over Carolina and left the Hurricanes frustrated.

Backup goalie Brent Johnson was sensational in turning aside 49 of 50 shots to win his sixth game of the season. Fourth-line right wing Matt Bradley recorded the second two-goal game of his career. Brian Willsie came through with the game’s first goal, and first-line right wing Chris Clark earned his 19th of the season, a short-handed tally, as the Caps were in command from start to finish.

“We had our foot on the gas the whole night,” said Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who less than a week ago said he was embarrassed by the way his team lost to the Caps. “I thought we came out with the right determination and then got frustrated by a bad bounce.”

The loss prevented Carolina from clinching the Southeast Division, although clinching is simply a matter of time for a team with a 19-point lead on Tampa Bay. More importantly, the loss prevented the Hurricanes, second in the East, from gaining any ground on front-running Ottawa.

Johnson played by far his best game of the season, though he had been faced with tougher chances in other games with far less rubber thrown in his direction. The only mark against him was a power-play strike 8:21 into the second period by Rod Brind’Amour — the 28th shot Johnson faced.

“The puck was coming through legs. I was seeing it,” Johnson said. “It was just one of those things. It was hitting my body, and I was able to get it past the guys waiting for rebounds or snuggle it into my body. I felt good on top of the crease. I wasn’t reacting to too many things that make my game all messed up.”

Said Caps coach Glen Hanlon: “He’s falling in line with all the other players who have worked hard all year long. To be rewarded, it’s good. That definitely was by far his best game. He was the main reason we won the game.”

Willsie opened the scoring early in the first, with Bradley adding one halfway through the first and another, the winner, early in the second. His only other two-goal game was Oct.13 against the New York Islanders.

“I got a lucky bounce on the first one, and I got lucky on the second one, too,” Bradley said. “I think I’ve been getting a lot of chances lately. I just haven’t been burning them. It was nice for us to put a couple in.”

Ovechkin’s power-play goal midway through the second moved him into sole possession of third place in the NHL scoring derby with 92 points. He went into the game tied with Carolina’s Eric Staal, but the Caps held Staal scoreless for the second time in less than a week. The goal also moved Ovechkin into a tie with Mike Gartner for seventh place on the Caps’ all-time single-season goal scoring list.

Notes — Carolina left wing Andrew Ladd developed a lower body injury after lineups were made, and he had to be scratched. That left the Hurricanes short a skater for the duration. … Washington went with the lineup it hopes to use for the rest of the season, dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That allows Hanlon the option of using Ovechkin all night on both the first and fourth lines plus the power play. … Washington is at Montreal tonight.

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