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Alex Ovechkin scored twice to add to his NHL-leading total, Semyon Varlamov stopped a penalty shot and the first-place Washington Capitals held on at the end to hand the Atlanta Thrashers their fourth straight loss, 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin didn't get a chance to go against fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Atlanta's star sat out his first game since breaking his right foot last weekend.

The visiting Capitals built a 3-0 lead and survived a wild finish. Three goals were scored in the last 2:23, including an empty-netter by Washington's Mike Knuble and Zach Bogosian's second goal of the game for Atlanta just before the buzzer.

Varlamov stopped Jim Slater on a penalty shot in the first period and baled out the Capitals when Atlanta dominated over the final two periods. Washington went through an 11-minute span with one shot on goal and was outshot 41-32 after holding a 13-7 edge in the first period.

Ovechkin opened the scoring just past the midway point of the first period, ripping a power-play goal past Ondrej Pavelec from the top of the left circle. Just under five minutes later, Ovechkin scooped up a loose puck after Maxim Afinogenov fell down, took off on a breakaway and snapped a shot over Pavelec's glove hand.

Ovechkin had not scored a goal in his last five games against the Thrashers. He took care of that with his 12th and 13th of the season.

Ovechkin also assisted on Washington's third goal with a nifty pass, threading the puck all the way across the crease with Atlanta a man down. Brendan Morrison stopped the puck with his right skate and got off a shot that deflected in off the glove of Pavelec at 4:10 of the second period.

Down 1-0, the Thrashers had a chance to get back in the game when Slater was dragged down from behind by Brooks Laich and was awarded a penalty shot.

Slater, playing for the first time since opening night, cut to his left and tried to put a wrist shot past Varlamov. The Washington goalie slid over to smother it between his arm and chest.

Atlanta finally broke through early in the third on a power play that carried over from the previous period. Bogosian pinched in toward the left circle and one-timed a shot just under the crossbar with Varlamov screened in front by six-foot-four defenceman Shaone Morrisonn.

But Varlamov came up big the rest of the way, blocking several good scoring chances. He got in front of a point-blank shot from Bryan Little and stopped a short-handed breakaway by Tobias Enstrom.

Atlanta had a chance to complete the comeback when Todd White took a long pass from Slava Kozlov and scored on a breakaway with 2:23 remaining to make it 3-2. But Knuble scored into an open net with 52.1 seconds left, making Bogosian's goal at the buzzer moot.