- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Thrashers are moving closer to their first playoff appearance. Now they’re setting their sights on home-ice advantage.

Eric Boulton assisted on goals by Bobby Holik and Keith Tkachuk, and the Thrashers reclaimed first place in the Southeast Division by beating the Washington Capitals 4-2 last night.

Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored for the Thrashers, who moved two points ahead of Tampa Bay in the division race. Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 shots.

“It’s great for our confidence,” Boulton said. “Come playoff time, to get home-ice advantage is huge, and for us to gain confidence here is great. It’s a great atmosphere here.”

Washington dropped its eighth straight and fell to 2-16 in road games since Dec. 26.

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals for the Caps, giving him seven goals and six assists in seven games against Atlanta this season. In 15 career games against the Thrashers, Ovechkin has 12 goals and 14 assists.

“He has a pretty good record against everybody,” Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. “There aren’t many teams he’s missing out on.”

Ovechkin’s power-play goal off the skate of Atlanta’s Andy Sutton less than two minutes into the third period cut the deficit to 3-2. Kovalchuk answered with his 37th goal midway through the period.

“Slowly but surely, we’re building home-ice advantage, and it’s such a key,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.

Ovechkin’s first goal of the game in the second period was his 40th of the season. The second-year star is the fourth player in Caps history with more than one 40-goal season.

“I try to do my best,” Ovechkin said. “I play for my team. I’m a scorer.”

Ovechkin said he tries to avoid keeping a close watch on his personal stats.

“If I think about it, I don’t score,” he said.

After Kozlov’s goal gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period, Boulton set up the play of the game.

Boulton stopped a possible breakaway for the Caps with a steal and then passed the puck to Holik, who had to lunge forward to gather it. While sliding toward the net on his chest, Holik managed to push the puck past goalie Brent Johnson for a 2-0 lead at 16:51.

“When you get a turnover like that, it is nice to make them pay,” Boulton said.

Ovechkin’s first goal cut Atlanta’s lead to 2-1, but Tkachuk answered with his 24th goal of the season. It was his fourth since being traded to the Thrashers by St. Louis on Feb. 25.

With Atlanta leading 3-1, Washington pulled Johnson in favor of Frederic Cassivi.

Johnson, who stopped 12 of 15 shots, hurt himself when trying to make a diving stop on Tkachuk’s goal at 14:30 of the second period. Johnson lay face down on the ice for about a minute before struggling to his feet.

“Something like a hamstring or a groin, I am guessing,” Hanlon said of the injury.

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