- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. — When Viktor Kozlov was signed in the offseason, his prowess in the shootout was considered a boon for a Washington Capitals team that struggled in the one-on-one format last year.

Alex Ovechkin scored his franchise-best 61st goal of the season, and Kozlov had the only goal in the shootout to propel the Caps to a 3-2 win in front of a sold-out crowd at RBC Center. Kozlov — 16-for-32 in his career in shootouts — snapped a wrist shot over the glove of Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who made a season-high 42 saves to help the Hurricanes force the one-on-one situation.

“It is a little bit easier for us shooting when Cristobal [Huet] stop the three before,” Kozlov said. “It take off the pressure a little bit from your shoulders. … It is an honor to have the team trust you to shoot in the shootout.”

With the victory, the Caps moved within four points of the Hurricanes in the Southeast Division with five games to play. They also kept pace with Boston and Philadelphia and remain two points back of the Bruins and four behind the Flyers for the final two playoff spots.

“We’ll take ‘em anyway we can get ‘em,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “It was a gut-check game. We knew it was going to be physical and hard to play.”

It was another historic night for Ovechkin. He netted his 61st at 9:41 of the second period, establishing a single-season franchise record. Nicklas Backstrom collected a drop pass from Kozlov and fed Ovechkin, who cut down the slot and put a shot off the right post and in.

Ovechkin moved ahead of Dennis Maruk, who had 60 in 1981-82. His total is also the second most by a Russian in NHL history, eclipsing Pavel Bure’s 60 (in 1992-93 and 1993-94) and behind only Alexander Mogilny’s 76 in 1992-93.

Maruk called Ovechkin yesterday after the morning skate.

“He tell me good luck. He congratulate me. He’s been watching me and just to not stop,” Ovechkin said. “Just keep pushing forward and best of luck.”

It also was Ovechkin’s 107th point, which sets a new career best for him, and is the second most in team history behind Maruk’s 130 from the same season. It was Backstrom’s second assist of the night, which moved him past Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the NHL scoring lead among rookies.

Alexander Semin atoned for a costly penalty in the first period by tying the game at 1-1 7:15 into the second period. He needed a split-second to let a cross-crease pass from Sergei Fedorov settle, but he was still able to jam it home on the power play for his 23rd goal of the season.

Despite the Caps controlling the play for much of the first period, the Hurricanes went into the break with the lead. Semin was sent to the penalty box with 23.9 seconds left in the opening period for a hooking infraction, and 10 seconds later Carolina took advantage with the help of a lucky carom.

Jeff Hamilton was trying to one-time a pass across the ice to Eric Staal, but the puck hit Boyd Gordon’s left skate and ricocheted into the net. Huet was trying to look over and around Carolina’s Erik Cole, who was stationed in front of the net, and had no idea the puck was sliding past his skates.

“I’ve never seen something like that,” Huet said.

Carolina’s second goal also was not of the everyday variety. Erik Cole corralled the puck near the left corner on the power play late in the second period and drove to the net. He lost control of it, but Shaone Morrisonn knocked him into Huet, and the puck’s momentum carried into the scrum.

There was a lengthy video review of the play, and it was declared a goal. Replays did not show the puck cross the goal line, but it was clearly under Huet and in the net.

“I’d like to know if the call was made in Toronto or made here,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Of all our views, we never saw the puck cross the line.

“It looked like it probably went it, but there was no conclusive evidence. But that’s here nor there now.”

Last night at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

QUOTABLE

“As far the National Hockey League goes, this is ‘Super Tuesday.’ You look at the teams that are playing and the ramifications that can happen — in the East anyway. The matchups are there.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on last night’s schedule

PROSPECTS UPDATE

Four Caps properties will compete in the NCAA tournament, which begins Friday. Junior defenseman Joe Finley has four goals and 15 points in 40 games for North Dakota, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. He is also a team-best plus-25. Defenseman and team captain Andrew Thomas has one goal and eight points in 40 games for Denver, the No. 2 seed in the same region. Freshman forward Phil DeSimone has two goals and 12 points in 37 games for New Hampshire, the top seed in the West Region. Freshman Dan Dunn is 3-2-2 with a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save percentage as the backup goalie for St. Cloud State, the No. 2 seed in the East Region.

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