By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010; D01
NEW YORK -- The winning streak is alive -- but just barely.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and four assists to help the Washington Capitals rally from a two-goal second-period deficit and beat the New York Rangers, 6-5, in a wild yet sloppy contest that included a combined 15 minor penalties and seven power-play goals between the teams.
"We're never out of it," said Poti, whose third-period goal gave him four points in his past three games. "We can be down by one or two or three and we know that we have the offense to come back and score. We never get too down on the bench, and that's a good thing."
The win stretched the Capitals' franchise-best winning streak to 12 games. It's the longest streak since the New Jersey Devils won 13 straight in 2000-01. Keeping it going, though, was anything but guaranteed late in the second period.
The Rangers appeared to be in command after taking a 5-3 lead on a goal from Brandon Dubinsky with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining before the second intermission. But, as the Capitals have proved time and again this season, no deficit is too big for the NHL's best offense to overcome.
Ovechkin, who became the ninth player to reach 500 career points in his fifth season, sparked the comeback with one of the niftiest goals of his career at 19:51. The two-time MVP bolted into the New York zone like a runaway bull, deftly slipped the puck between defenseman Michael Rozsival's skates, then pushed the puck past Henrik Lundqvist with only his left hand on his stick.
"It will be in the top 30," Coach Bruce Boudreau said when asked to rank the goal among Ovechkin's all-time greatest. "He scores a lot of nice ones."
Boudreau added: "I thought [coming back] was going to be a real challenge, but when Alex made it 5-4 at the end of the period I thought we were right back in it."
Poti tied the game at 5 early in the third period with the second of the Capitals' three power-play goals. The defenseman fired an arching wrist shot from the point that eluded a screened Lundqvist.
"That was a rocket," Poti joked. "I saw [Mike] Knuble in front and I couldn't see the goalie's eyes, so I figured just let a shot go."
Backstrom completed the comeback, on the power play, when he hammered a deflected pass through Lundqvist to make it with 14:26 left to play.
José Theodore (33 stops) made the lead stand up to extend his career-best winning streak to nine games.
The Capitals departed afterward for Washington, where they'll host the Ilya Kovalchuk-less Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night. Atlanta dealt Kovalchuk, its captain, to New Jersey in a five-player swap that might represent a power shift at the top of the Eastern Conference.
"Maybe their [new] guys won't make it in because of the weather and they'll have to play short-handed," Boudreau said. "I don't know, just hoping. I'm just glad Kovalchuk isn't playing for Atlanta tomorrow."
Boudreau was pleased to get another win. But he conceded that he's concerned about two things: his team's growing penchant for taking penalties and its trouble matching the intensity of desperate teams.
Again, the Capitals were out-hustled, out-shot (18-6) and out-scored (2-1) in the first period. Their problems began with an interference penalty on Tomas Fleischmann, who was in the box for only 38 seconds before Ryan Callahan redirected a point shot by Olli Jokinen, who was making his Rangers debut after being acquired in a trade from Calgary on Monday night.
In all, six different Capitals took minor penalties.
"It's hard to be disciplined all the time," Boudreau said. "We got away with it, but we just can't continue. We have to get back to two or three a game."
"But," Boudreau added, "I don't know if other teams want to go power play for power play against us."
Capitals notes: Mike Green served the third and final game of his suspension and is scheduled to return to the lineup Friday. Although the league's leading scorer among defensemen still is walking with a bit of a limp because of a bruised knee, Boudreau said he can "guarantee" that Green will face Atlanta. . . .
Knuble scored his 20th goal of the season in the second period. He has at least as many in seven straight seasons. . . .
Alexander Semin's 10-game point streak, the longest in the league, ended. . . .
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who missed a start for the minor league Hershey Bears on Wednesday because of a lower-body injury, is "fine" and ready to return, Boudreau said. . . .
With the Capitals facing back-to-back games, Boudreau also said there's a chance that rookie goaltender Braden Holtby will start against the Thrashers. . . .
Semyon Varlamov, meantime, remains on track to make a rehab start for the Bears on Saturday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. . . .
Boudreau on tracking trade rumors involving Kovalchuk: "I was on the Internet all day yesterday looking for scoops like a reporter."