With Victory, Capitals Rise Into First Place
Thursday, February 7, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 6 -- Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals came to Wachovia Center on Wednesday with one purpose: to finish the job they started in this building 10 weeks ago.
With goals from Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley, and 31 saves from Olie Kolzig, they did just that, leaving with a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers -- and something far more significant.
The Capitals leapfrogged Carolina and Atlanta and moved into first place in the Southeast Division, completing a turnaround in which they have ascended from last place in the NHL in 34 games under Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov also scored for Washington, which won for the fourth straight time in Philadelphia despite some tense moments in the final minutes. Mike Knuble, Sami Kapanen and Randy Jones tallied for the Atlantic Division-leading Flyers.
"The last time we were in this building we were in last place and now we're in first place," said Laich, who set a career high with his ninth goal of the season. "We're happy with where we are now, but we can't get complacent. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
That was the predominant theme in the visitors' locker room, that the hard part is yet to come.
"We love the fact that, for a day, the guys have fought all the way back and put themselves in good contention," Boudreau said. "But it's one thing being there and it's another thing staying there. Staying there is usually the hardest part."
Indeed, the Capitals' lead is thin, just one point over the Hurricanes and Thrashers, and they host Carolina on Friday. "It feels good, but we can't get comfortable," said defenseman Mike Green, who had two primary assists.
For a moment, they got too comfortable against the Flyers. Ovechkin jammed in his own rebound to extend the Capitals' lead to 4-1 at 7 minutes 45 seconds of the third period, scoring his league-leading 46th goal of the season. But Philadelphia managed to make this game closer than it should have been.
Kapanen tapped in a rebound with 6:10 remaining to trim Washington's edge to 4-2. Then, with goaltender Martin Biron on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, Jones struck with 54 seconds remaining to make it 4-3. That's as close as the Flyers got, however.
"A lot has changed," Kolzig said. "We were here on Thanksgiving and a lot of people were writing us off. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have another big game on Friday and  more big games after that."
The Capitals' surge in the standings started in this arena on Nov. 23, in Boudreau's first game behind the bench. Boudreau was successful in his debut, thanks to a goal by rookie Nicklas Backstrom, who lifted his team to a 4-3 win in overtime. They've been rolling ever since. Washington is 20-10-4 under Boudreau, who was smiling for another reason after the game: He finally got the "dirty goal" he has sought in recent weeks.