- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

Remember when the Washington Capitals’ much-maligned power play was much maligned? That was, oh, about two days ago.

Seems like forever, doesn’t it? Then there was Friday night, when the Caps’ power play looked like an unstoppable force in a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.

The Caps on the man advantage were 0-for-17 at one point Wednesday night. Nicklas Backstrom broke the drought against the Ottawa Senators, and then Washington scored four times in six chances vs. Toronto — including the first three opportunities.

“I think we were moving the puck pretty good tonight, and we had a lot of shots,” said Backstrom, who had one of the four. “Power play’s all about movement and work, and that’s what we did tonight. That’s how you score goals.”

It was the first time the Caps had four power-play goals in a game since Dec. 5, 2009 — and Dennis Wideman was just about a one-man power play Friday night. He scored twice with blasts from the point, fed Backstrom for the third and then scored another time to wrap up what looked like his first career hat trick.

Wideman claimed his third goal went in off Brooks Laich, so he thinks it will be changed when the NHL reviews it Saturday. But until then, the hat trick remains.

“I never had one before — still haven’t had one,” Wideman said. “I had some opportunities. On the five-on-three when I got that pass in the slot, I was thinking I could maybe get one, and then I saw Nicky open on the back door, so I had to give it to him.”

If it remains Wideman’s goal, it’s the first hat trick by a Caps defenseman since Sergei Gonchar on Jan. 14, 2000. No matter what, it’s a new career high in goals for the 28-year-old.

And no matter who gets credit for the final goal, this was a banner night for a power play that couldn’t seem to buy a break lately.

“Good thing,” a relieved coach Dale Hunter said. “They moved it around well and took the shots when they were there. We got in there easy enough to set it up. Power play, it was one of them nights where everything they shot went good.”

It didn’t hurt that the Caps were facing Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, who owns the worst short-handed save percentage in the league. Or that Toronto’s penalty kill looked out of whack all night. What mattered was the Caps cashing in on their 13 power-play shots and winding up with four goals.

“Our power play has been key the last two games,” said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who made 26 saves. “That’s how it is in this league — when you get chances like that, you’ve got to put the puck in the net.”

The Caps did just that and left Verizon Center with their first winning streak under Hunter.

“I think we played better tonight, and I think to get our power play finally going is big for us,” Wideman said. “Hopefully we can build off this and keep moving forward.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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