Depth players lead Capitals to win
Brooks Laich had a goal and two assists Sunday afternoon as the Washington Capitals defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 6-4 and moved back into second place in the Eastern Conference.
Washington (48-23-8) is now two points ahead of New Jersey for second spot in the NHL East, with both teams having three games remaining.
Stars Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green weren't forces against the Thrashers, but it didn't matter. Five other Capitals each had a goal and an assist in their final home game of the regular season: Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, Keith Aucoin, Tomas Fleischmann and Michael Nylander.
Ovechkin did draw his second assist of the day on Laich's empty-netter and now has 51 assists to go along with 55 goals, putting him two points behind Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the league lead.
"It's great to finally have some scoring from all over the place," said Fehr, one of four Washington players to score in the third period. "Ovie's been carrying the workload pretty much all year."
Defenceman Green was held without a point but logged nearly 26 minutes of ice time.
Slava Kozlov had a goal and assist for Atlanta (34-39-6), with Colby Armstrong, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Jim Slater also scoring.
The teams, who will play Tuesday in Atlanta, have combined for 41 goals in five head-to-head games this season.
Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg finished with 27 saves, seven more than counterpart Jose Theodore.
Blunder proves costly
Atlanta defenceman Nathan Oystrick made a bad giveaway right to Fleischmann to get things going on Sunday, just what the slumping forward needed. Fleischmann marked his 18th, which came 16 games after his previous score.
"It was a break for me," Fleischmann said. "I haven't had a lot of bounces for me lately."
The goal was just what coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to see from Fleischmann.
"The relief on his eyes when he finally scored was like, 'Oh, man, I can play the game,' " Boudreau said. "You start to doubt yourself after a while, no matter who you are, when you have trouble scoring. I hope that adds a little confidence to his game."
Armstrong got the goal back with a nifty move to the slot and a shot past defender Tom Poti and Theodore for his 20th of the season.
Washington's vaunted power play went just 1-for-7 in the game and allowed a short-handed goal early in the second when Slater beat Theodore with a backhand move on a break.
"We were sleepwalking, it seemed like, for two periods," Boudreau said. "I hope it doesn't take me coming in and screaming and yelling to get them going. They've got to learn to do it on their own. You yell at your kids too much, they'll tune you out."
The Capitals drew even again when Ovechkin made a cross-crease pass that Aucoin buried behind Hedberg.
Late in the period, Kovalchuk fired a shot past Theodore's glove for his 42nd, a mark he has hit or exceeded in each of the last five seasons.
The Capitals dominated Atlanta in the third as the visitors had a series of defensive breakdowns.
Nylander started the outburst when his shot from the right faceoff circle beat Hedberg over the right shoulder.
Aucoin hit the post seconds later, but Washington did convert at the 5:04 mark when Fehr outfought Atlanta's Bryan Little for a rebound and put it home. It was Fehr's fourth goal against Atlanta this season.
Kovalchuk committed a bad turnover in his own end and then was little more than a spectator as Semin and Fleischmann completed a give-and-go around him for a 5-3 lead.
Theodore got greedy when Atlanta pulled their goalie late in the third. The Capitals netminder tried to corral the puck and make a bid for the empty net at the other end, but with 44 seconds on the clock the puck instead went to Kozlov in front of an empty Washington net.
Laich put the affair away for good with an empty-netter for his 20th moments later.
With files from the Associated Press