- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Washington Capitals acquired a potential No. 1 goalie and No. 2 center before yesterday’s trade deadline.

The players occupying those positions last night made their cases not to concede their spots. Brooks Laich had career bests with two goals and four points, and goaltender Olie Kolzig made 34 saves to propel the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center.

“Olie’s been here way too long for people to not know how good of a goalie he is,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “At the same time, I thought that was maybe Brook Laich’s best game as a pro. When he’s skating like that it is a real added bonus.”

With Viktor Kozlov sidelined because of illness and new acquisition Sergei Fedorov not in town yet, Boudreau put Alexander Semin with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to form a dynamic unit — only it wasn’t the standout line last night.

The second line of Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr carried the Caps’ offense in a win that kept Washington within five points of division-leading Carolina. Ovechkin didn’t score a goal for the sixth straight game and was held off the scoresheet entirely for the fourth time in six games, but it didn’t matter.

“The game plan quite frankly was hopefully [the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line] could score two or three goals and everybody else just check their rear-ends off,” Boudreau said. “As it turned out the Fehr-Laich-Fleischmann line — I thought they were all flying. It was great to see other guys finally get some success.”

Laich gave the Caps a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. Tomas Fleischmann fed Laich with a breakout pass, and he broke in alone on Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom for his 12th goal of the season and third in four games.

Laich set up Washington’s second goal at 10:11. He sent a pass from the left corner to a cutting Fleischmann in the slot, but he whiffed on a one-timer attempt. The puck travelled to defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who settled it at the top of the offensive zone and ripped one past Backstrom for his first goal of the season.

After the Caps dominated much of the opening 10 minutes, the Wild controlled the momentum for the next 25. But Kolzig — whose playing time could suffer with the addition of Cristobal Huet from Montreal — was nearly perfect while the Wild peppered him with 27 shots in the opening 40 minutes.

His lone blemish came at 13:10 of the second period. Minnesota’s Eric Belanger sent a shot toward the net that glanced off Branko Radivojevic’s body and in. Kolzig has allowed two goals or less in five of his past six starts.

“With everything that happened today, you sit there and you think about it, but that is one thing I pride myself on is try to be a professional regardless of what is going on and get prepared for the game and deal with it after or the next day,” Kolzig said.

Eric Fehr netted his first of the year at 15:59 of the second to regain the two-goal advantage. He tried to center the puck from the left corner, but it hit Wild defenseman Sean Hill’s stick and ricocheted back to him. Fehr collected it and snapped it under the crossbar for his third career NHL goal and first since Feb. 6.

Eight seconds after Matt Bradley pummeled Aaron Voros (he also fought Caps center David Steckel earlier in the period after putting Chris Bourque into the boards), Laich made it a career night.

He fired a shot past Backstrom from near the left faceoff circle to put the Caps up 4-1. The 24-year-old from Saskatchewan came into this season with 15 goals in 151 career games, but he now has 13 this season.

After Laich’s second tally derisive chants of “Back-strom, Back-strom,” filled the arena — an eerie scene considering those same patrons could serenade the Caps’ 20-year-old rookie center with the same chant at a different pace.

“It was nice, especially after the tough day mentally when you lose a teammate and a good friend [Matt Pettinger],” Laich said. “There were other things outside of hockey we’re hoping not to distract us today, and I thought we did a good job.”

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