Caps Get Even With Win

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Washington Capitals have been gaining in the standings ever since a Thanksgiving day coaching change, slowly chipping away at a deficit that only two months ago seemed too great to overcome.

Now, after last night's 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers, Alex Ovechkin and his teammates finally have a tangible measurement of their recent success: They're back to .500 for the first time since Oct. 24.

"We've officially reached mediocrity," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over on Nov. 22, when the Capitals were 6-14-1, their worst start in 26 years. "You always have little goals. And that was a goal.

"But the easy part is to get there. The hard part is to get over it and stay above it. If we want to make the playoffs we have to get better than that."

Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom had four assists, Viktor Kozlov scored twice and goaltender Brent Johnson made 25 saves. The Capitals (21-21-5) jumped out to a 3-0 lead, gave up three straight goals, then finished with a flurry that had 16,973 at Verizon Center on their feet.

Alexander Semin's fifth goal in four games at 12 minutes 17 seconds of the second period restored Washington's edge, 4-3, and Ovechkin's 36th of the season clinched it early in the third. Both strikes came on the power play, which was 3 for 6.

The win helped the Capitals close out a season-long homestand with four wins as well as improve to 7-2-1 in their past 10. It also moved them to within three points of Southeast Division-leading Carolina.

"There's nothing impossible," said Kozlov, who recorded his first multiple-goal game of the season. "But we need to continue to work hard and look forward to next game."

Ovechkin took it a step further, confidently saying, "Right now we're .500. But for us, it's just a beginning."

There was some reason for concern afterward, though. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was struck on the leg by a slap shot early in the second period, limped to the bench and did not return. Boudreau said he was told that Morrisonn is "okay."

Boudreau also said he was pleased with Johnson's performance. The backup goaltender improved to 4-1-0 in his past five appearances and could be the starter on Monday when the Capitals face the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins in Pittsburgh.

"I though Brent made all the saves he was supposed to make," Boudreau said. "If he was seeing it, he was stopping it."

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