Caps Stay Within Striking Distance

Cristobal Huet, stopping the Panthers' David Booth, had 32 saves as the Capitals won the eighth of their last nine.
Cristobal Huet, stopping the Panthers' David Booth, had 32 saves as the Capitals won the eighth of their last nine. (By Hans Deryk -- Associated Press)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

SUNRISE, Fla., March 29 -- The Washington Capitals' 3-0 victory over the Florida Panthers wasn't particularly exciting or pleasing to the eye. But, as several players noted afterward, style points don't count for much this time of year.

The only points that matter are the ones awarded to the winner, and the Capitals earned two huge ones at BankAtlantic Center on Saturday to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Cristobal Huet made 32 saves and Viktor Kozlov (goal, two assists), Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green supplied the offense as Washington won for the eighth time in nine games and capped a six-game trip with a 5-1-0 record.

"It probably wasn't the prettiest game, but as long as we get the two points," said Green, whose 18th goal of the season ended a 14-game drought. "As long as we keep winning, we'll be in a spot where we want to be."

With three games remaining, the Capitals are two points behind eighth-place Boston and three behind seventh-place Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berths. They also pulled to within two points of Carolina in their quest for the Southeast Division title.

"We absolutely couldn't afford to lose with Boston winning this afternoon," Coach Bruce Boudreau, who delayed his news conference for a few minutes while watching the Flyers rally for a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders. "I thought our goaltender and defense played really well. . . .

"We can only do what we can do. But if we keep winning, something good is going to happen. If we continue to play like we're playing, someone is going to falter once, and we're going to be there to jump on it."

The Capitals close out the season with home games against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida. The Panthers were eliminated with the loss.

"We have a couple of days to charge the batteries," said Huet, who earned his sixth straight victory, and eighth in 10 starts as a Capital. "It doesn't mean that it's going to be easy playing at home. But we're looking forward to getting some rest."

The Capitals' power play came up empty, going 0 for 6. But Huet outdueled Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and Kozlov carried the offense with his third three-point game and 16th goal of the season. It's quite a surge for a player who netted only four goals in the first 40 games.

"He gave me a little smirk at the end of the game," Boudreau said of Kozlov. "He's a plus-27. You can't deny the way he plays both offensively and defensively. He's been a great acquisition. He's part of that big line and they got two of the three goals tonight."

Ovechkin, the NHL's leading scorer, notched goal No. 62 at 11 minutes 32 seconds of the third period to finish off the Capitals' workmanlike effort. He fished the puck out of Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's skate and fired it past Vokoun, who fell to 4-3-0 against the Capitals.

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