- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2008

For the second consecutive night the Toronto Maple Leafs lured the Washington Capitals into a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair.

But one night after yielding the game-winning goal in the final minute, the Caps were able to withstand a lengthy 6-on-4 in the waning moments and preserve a 2-1 victory in front of 14,094 at Verizon Center.

Reserve goaltender Brent Johnson made 31 saves to overcome the Caps disadvantage in both shots and quality scoring chances.

“He was awesome,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought he was sharp and you could tell he was on top of his game. His movement was great, and we needed him because we were a tired bunch and we got outplayed pretty good for the first time in a while.”

Alex Ovechkin assisted on both Washington goals to give him 65 points — which puts him two behind Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson (who had a seven-point night to leap from seventh to first) for the NHL scoring lead. Ovechkin still leads the league in goals with 39.

For the Caps it was revenge for a 3-2 loss in Toronto the night before and the team’s ninth victory in the past 12 games. Washington still has not lost back-to-back games in regulation since Boudreau was named coach.

Though he took over barely more than two months ago with the team at the bottom of the NHL standings and in a 3-14-1 free fall, the Caps have climbed to within one point of Carolina for the Southeast Division lead and three points of the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference.

“That’s where I want to be,” Boudreau said. “Actually I want us to be one point ahead. I’ve preached so I don’t think I am making it up, but we want to win them all. I’m not saying we will, but our goal is to win the division, make the playoffs and go far.”

Johnson has been strong in net when called upon since Boudreau was put in charge. He is 5-1 in his seven appearances and has not allowed more than three goals in any of them. Since the coaching change, Johnson has a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

The 30-year-old goaltender also won his third straight home start in a span of nine days. Johnson had only one other start at Verizon this season — a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 20.

“I felt really good tonight, but we had efforts from every guy,” Johnson said. “It could have gone either way tonight and we had guys pick up their socks and score a goal there.”

Brooks Laich put Washington in front at the 13:05 mark of the opening period. Laich redirected a slap shot from Ovechkin one second before a hooking penalty assessed to Toronto’s Ian White was set to expire.

It was Laich’s eighth goal of the season — which ties his career high — and his first in 10 games.

After a scoreless second period, Boyd Devereaux tied the score 1-1 for the Maple Leafs.

But the Caps would have an answer 36 seconds later. Nicklas Backstrom fed Ovechkin for a one-timer near the right faceoff circle. Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala made the stop, but the rebound went right to Viktor Kozlov and he calmly slid it into the open net for his ninth marker of the season.

Toronto’s best chance to force overtime came in the final minutes. After a boarding penalty on David Steckel, the Maple Leafs sent Toskala to the bench and had a 6-on-4 advantage for 1:20, but Johnson turned aside both shots on net and one from Mats Sundin with 10 seconds left after Steckel left the box.

“Last game, Toskala save the game for Toronto and today Johnnie save the game for us,” Ovechkin said.

Note — Left wing Donald Brashear signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract extension before the game. Brashear, who turned 36 earlier this month, has three goals and six points and leads the team with 72 penalty minutes.

A team spokesman said the negotiations took “about five minutes” and Brashear did not have an agent present. He is making $1.1 million this season.

“Whether the physical play in the NHL is down, I think it is nice to have the biggest dog on the block on your team, and I think we do,” Boudreau said. “He’s been a great contributor other than just from a physical presence.”

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