Alex Ovechkin one-timed John Carlson's pass for his NHL-leading 46th goal eight seconds into a third-period power play to break a tie and lead Washington to a 3-2 win at Honda Center on Tuesday night.
Washington began its three-game California trip with a special-teams win; the Capitals killed all five penalties behind goalie Jaroslav Halak's 43 saves, and their second-ranked power play went 2-for-3 and is on a 7-for-17 run.
"Everybody understands what this game was and what this trip meant for us," Ovechkin said. "We prepared. We were ready. It's good … the power play is the key right now, probably for every team. If you get an opportunity, you have to use it. We watched at the video and saw what they're going to do, and we make some changes and it's good."
The Capitals (33-27-10) boosted their hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs by pulling even in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference and lost 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes. Both teams are one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings; however, Washington has played two more games than Detroit and Columbus.
Anaheim (45-17-7) had built momentum from two straight wins. However, the Ducks missed a chance to go into a huge road game Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks assured that they would come out with the lead in the Pacific Division. The Sharks lost 3-2 to the Florida Panthers, leaving each team with 97 points, though the Ducks own first place because they've played one fewer game.
The Ducks paid the price for an 0-for-5 night on the power play. They are 2-for-47 since Jan. 30.
"They were able to get very easy goals on their power play. That was the difference in the game," Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy said the intensity was there and they were aware that they were facing coach Bruce Boudreau's former team. Boudreau was fired by the Capitals in November 2011.
"This is a big one for Bruce," Lovejoy said. "We all knew it. I think we came out with a lot of passion. I think that when we're skating, when we're playing tough hockey, we get our forecheck going. We had that going tonight. We weren't able to put more than two in the net."
Ovechkin's line went up against the defensive pairing of Luca Sbisa and Francois Beauchemin and was largely held in check for the first two periods. Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller denied Ovechkin on two other third-period shots, but Washington was able to close out the one-goal win.
Ovechkin was centered by Jay Beagle in a new tweak; he finished with five shots and an even rating after he had one point and with a minus-8 rating in his previous six games. Ovechkin has six goals in four career appearances in Anaheim.
Ovechkin's goal came at 2:44 of third period right off a faceoff, 72 seconds after Anaheim appeared to end its power-play slump on a wrist shot by Mathieu Perreault. Patrick Maroon screened Halak with one second showing on the advantage to tie it 2-2, but the goal was later ruled an even-strength goal.
The Ducks seemingly did everything but score on their first three power plays. Down 2-1 with a two-man advantage for 1:51 in the second period, the Ducks had four shots couldn't get the puck past Halak.
"It's what we needed," Carlson said of the kill. "They got a few chances, but you've got to expect that. Jaro played great all game, but certainly battled hard in front of the net. Corey Perry's great in front of the net. He scores probably 80 percent of his goals from there, and Jaro stood in."
Anaheim received a solid performance from captain Ryan Getzlaf, who had seven shots on goal, hit a post and won 13 of 21 faceoffs. His post shot came on the power play, which just about summed up the night for the Ducks.
"We shot tonight, we just didn't pay the price in front of the net until the end," Boudreau said. "I think we had a lot of looks and we were shooting the puck, but we weren't getting any loose pucks. We can make 1,000,001 excuses, but you're just not getting the job done.
"As far as penalty-killing goes, we knew exactly what they were going to do. It's no secret what they do, and yet we still didn't defend it."
Anaheim had a territorial advantage for most of the opening period, but Washington converted on two of its few chances for a 2-1 lead at first intermission. Troy Brouwer tapped in a loose puck from the crease with 10 seconds left in the period after Marcus Johansson whacked at it.
The teams traded goals in the opening minutes. Washington got at least two consecutive shots on goal before Joel Ward was left wide open on the right side for an easy score at 2:11. Lovejoy tied it at 3:10 with a slap shot that glanced off Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen after Washington got caught in a line change.
Defenseman Stephane Robidas made his Ducks debut and played 13:32 in his first game since Nov.29. He was paired with Bryan Allen. Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler missed a second game with a leg injury, and the results of his MRI exam were not announced.
"It wasn't my best, but the first one is out of the way," Robidas said. "I can move on. My leg is good. I got bumped a few times, and I tried to bump them a few times. Everything is good."