- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Washington Capitals looked like a playoff team in the first period last night, and that proved to be enough.

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Cristobal Huet made 24 saves as the Caps opened an early three-goal lead against the Nashville Predators and hung on late to escape a sold-out Sommet Center with a 4-2 victory.

“They played better than us in the second [period] and in the third, too,” Huet said. “We are happy about the end result, but definitely that was not the perfect game.”

The three-point night gives Ovechkin 300 for his career, and by doing it in 237 games he is the fastest to reach the milestone since Peter Forsberg 10 seasons ago. More importantly for the Caps, they kept pace with Philadelphia, which defeated Atlanta 3-2, in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Washington is two points behind the Flyers and moved to within three points of the idle Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division. With two games left against the Hurricanes, the Caps can control their own fate.

Down by a goal, Predators goalie Chris Mason went to the bench for an extra attacker with about 1:40 left as Nashville pressed for an equalizer. Ovechkin ended the suspense by banking in a clearing attempt from 130 feet away with four seconds left for his 58th goal of the season.

Ovechkin collected the puck and waited for a second before putting it off the boards near center ice. It angled down the ice and trickled into the net just before Nashville defenseman Marek Zidlicky crashed into the cage in pursuit.

When asked whether he was trying to score, Ovechkin replied, “No, I was trying to keep puck in the neutral zone, so it was luckiest score ever.”

For about 15 minutes the Caps looked like a team that now has matched a season-high four-game winning streak.

Alexander Semin put the Caps on the board first with a power-play goal at 6:49. After faking a shot to get Greg Zanon to drop to one knee, he skated around the Predators defenseman and ripped a wrist shot past Predators starting goaltender Dan Ellis for his 22nd of the season.

Alex Ovechkin was credited with an assist on the play for his 100th point of the season. He is the first player in team history with multiple 100-point seasons.

Ovechkin didn’t wait long to collect point No. 101. He left a one-handed pass in front of the net for Nicklas Backstrom, whose first shot was stopped before he stuck in the rebound for his 12th goal of the season at 9:59.

Matt Bradley made it 3-0 and sent Ellis to the bench at 14:40 on a great individual play by Brooks Laich. The Caps center knocked an Ellis clearing attempt out of midair with his left glove and then fed a cutting Bradley for a one-timer.

Nashville’s J.P. Dumont scored his 28th of the season on a sneaky wrist shot from the right faceoff circle 4:09 into the second period, and Jason Arnott pulled the Predators within one at 12:37 when he surprised Huet with a shot from near the left circle.

There was a scary moment for Ovechkin earlier in the game. He took a shot from Nashville’s Greg de Vries off his foot with 2:36 left in the first period and fell to the ice. He finished the shift — and nearly scored a goal — but moved slowly to the bench afterward.

He said after the game he was fine, but he was walking with a limp. Ovechkin did block a shot from Arnott with 27 seconds to go and went down trying to get in the way of another seconds later before eventually potting the empty-netter.

“I don’t know why [he is blocking shots],” Boudreau said. “I’m telling him to get out of there. He’s blocking shots because he wants to win as much as anybody and if not more.”

Last night at Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Quotable

“We have a lot of young guys that this is a whole learning process on how to win in tight situations, and I think it was a great game for that.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau

By the numbers

1Current NHL arena Alex Ovechkin has not played in after this game, United Center in Chicago. He will cross it off the list tonight.

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