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Washington Capitals Defeat New York Rangers

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 4, 2009

While last night's rematch did not feature all of the drama and suspense of the teams' meeting 11 days earlier, the Washington Capitals methodically went about doing something they've made a habit of this season: They sent a sold-out crowd home toasting yet another victory at Verizon Center.

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Alex Ovechkin scored short-handed, José Theodore was solid in net, and Alexander Semin, playing for the first time in two weeks, set up a goal and got into his first NHL fight as the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1, to improve to 26-11-3, the best record through 40 games in the club's 35-year history.

Almost as astounding as their superb first half is the Capitals' record at home. Winning a season-best six games in a row and 11 of their past 12, they improved to 17-1-1 on home ice in front of the ninth capacity crowd of the season, one more than all of last season.

"It's crucial to win games in your own building because it's so hard to do it on the road," said defenseman Mike Green, who scored his eighth power play goal (and 10th overall). "Anytime you go into a building where a team is hot, you know you have to work that much harder to beat them, and sometimes that is mentally tiring for other teams."

The Rangers came here hoping to avenge a humiliating collapse on Dec. 23 at Madison Square Garden, where Washington rallied from 4-0 deficit and won, 5-4. The Capitals, however, had other ideas.

After a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Rangers' Petr Prucha took a feed from Brandon Dubinsky on a rush and banged it past Theodore at 10:04 of the second period. But that's all Theodore -- and a stellar effort from the Capitals' defense -- would give them. The 22 shots were the fewest Washington had yielded in 14 games.

Green evened the score at 1 only 79 seconds later when he sneaked backdoor on the power play and snapped a perfectly placed pass from Semin underneath Steve Valiquette.

Semin, who had missed the previous six games with a back injury, was later involved in his first career fight. His tussle with Marc Staal ended with a shoulder pad-less Semin throwing punches wildly. That led to Semin's ejection because his jersey was not tied down to his shorts as NHL rules require.

"He's not a fighter," Ovechkin said of Semin. "But if you have to fight, you have to fight."

While the fight was easily the night's most entertaining moment, the game's decisive moment had occurred in the final seconds of the second period.

Valiquette, who got the start in place of an ill Henrik Lundqvist, repeatedly committed robbery as the Capitals cranked up the pressure on the backup netminder late in the second period. Valiquette turned away Ovechkin from point-blank range, then thwarted Eric Fehr with a splendid kick save, then stopped Ovechkin short-handed from close range.

But later on that same Rangers power play, Ovechkin scored the fourth short-handed goal of his career and first since his rookie season. He carried the puck through the neutral zone, faked a slap shot, which froze New York defenseman Wade Redden, then whipped his trademark wrist shot through Valiquette with 32 seconds remaining to send the Capitals into the third period leading 2-1.

"It was the end of the shift and I just wanted to shoot the puck," Ovechkin said. "Like I said, it was kind of a lucky goal and sometimes you have to have luck. It was an important goal."

Ovechkin's 27th tally of the season proved to be the winner on a night for a Capitals team that is beginning to look like one capable of special things this season.

"It was made clear what the [40-game] record was before the game," Green said. Coach Bruce Boudreau "is all about breaking records."

Capitals Notes: Ovechkin, the league's reigning most valuable player, was not voted into the starting lineup for the NHL's all-star game by fan balloting. Instead, the Eastern Conference starters will include two players from Pittsburgh and four from Montreal, the host city.

"Everybody who knows hockey, knows that Alex would be in the starting lineup if it went on merit," Boudreau said. . . . Donald Brashear returned after missing two games with a bruised leg, but Sergei Fedorov (ankle), John Erskine (concussion), Tom Poti (groin) and Tomas Fleischmann (pneumonia) remained out.

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