In a Must-Win, It's Ovechkin

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008

It was a game the Washington Capitals pretty much had to win to preserve their hopes of earning a playoff berth.

Alex Ovechkin -- with a dramatic third-period goal -- made sure they did.

Ovechkin scored goals 64 and 65, the second breaking a tie early in the final period, to lead the Capitals to a 4-1 victory over the last-place Tampa Bay Lightning last night at Verizon Center.

The win, Washington's sixth in a row -- its longest streak since January 2001 -- and 11th in 12 games, moved the Capitals into the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot with one game remaining in the regular season.

There are several scenarios that could result in the Capitals sneaking into the playoffs for the first time in five years. But the simplest ones require that they also beat the Florida Panthers tomorrow night and finish with 94 points. In fact, if tonight's Ottawa-Boston game finishes in regulation, the Capitals would control their own playoff fate.

"We haven't gotten anywhere yet," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're in the same position two weeks, two months ago. It comes down to one game. If we win it, it's in our own hands. The guys have played so hard, I just want them to get rewarded."

Boyd Gordon clinched the win with a backhander with 3 minutes 17 seconds left, then Tom Poti added an empty-net goal with 1:08 remaining.

But the big one was scored by -- who else? -- Ovechkin. He rifled a wrist shot from the top of the circles past Karri Ramo with 12:10 left to play to put the Capitals ahead 2-1 and set off a wild celebration on the ice and in the stands, where the Verizon Center patrons once again serenaded Ovechkin with an ear-splitting chant of "M-V-P!"

"He really turns it up when the game's on the line," forward Brooks Laich said. "You've seen that many times. The third period is usually his best period of the hockey game, and tonight was no exception."

Ovechkin's clutch goal helped the Capitals avert a potentially devastating outcome. They had begun to look increasingly frustrated after peppering Ramo, the Lightning's rookie goalie, with 29 shots in the first and second periods, but only managing to squeeze one past him.

Ramo (36 saves) turned away Ovechkin on a semi-breakaway near the midpoint, and the game went into the third even at 1.

"I don't know if it was Ramo making the big saves, or the fact that it was 1-1 late in the game, and knowing what our situation is, guys didn't want to make a mistake," Boudreau said. "Sometimes you just have to play."

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