TORONTO -- A fast start helped the Washington Capitals pick up two critical points Saturday night.
Marcus Johansson and Keith Aucoin each had a goal and an assist as the Caps earned a 4-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. With the win, the Capitals were able to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and now hold sole possession of ninth place, just one point out of a postseason spot.
Although the Maple Leafs scored twice in the third period when Colby Armstrong and Tim Connolly found the net, Washington got all the offense it needed by dominating the first two periods in which it outshot Toronto 29 – 19, scored four goals and held the Leafs off the board.
The Capitals had a good start that propelled them to a 2-0 lead after one period of play.
Johansson staked the Capitals to an early 1-0 lead on his wraparound just 32 seconds into the game. With several Leafs lined up in front of James Reimer preventing a pass, Johansson circled the net and curled the puck in around the far post. It was Johansson's 12th goal of the season and first since Feb. 5.
"It's always good to get the first one and then have something to work off," Johansson said. "It was a good feeling for the team to get (a lead) right away. After that, I think we kept going and we never really stopped. I was kind of looking for a pass, but I couldn't find it and it was open around (the far side), so why not just put in there?"
Washington scored again at 3:46, when Alexander Semin picked the pocket of Luke Schenn and fired one past Reimer from a short distance. Schenn looked to corral the puck off a rebound, but could not gain full control and was stripped by Semin, who was following his initial shot. His low shot drive beat Reimer, prompting Toronto coach Ron Wilson to use his timeout.
Reimer made nine saves in the first period and faced some hostility from the home crowd when freezing the puck on a couple of occasions.
"The two goals early in the game were stoppable," Wilson said. "They got saves at one end and we didn't. We dug a hole because of that and we are always kind of waiting now for something bad to happen on the goal line and we've gotta find a way to get over it."
Washington's Michal Neuvirth, was sharp as he stopped all nine shots fired on net, including two solid chances by Phil Kessel. Overall, Neuvirth finished with 28 saves for his second win in as many nights.
"We are trying to keep the shots down and scoring chances especially and when we do break down, it happens in a game -- its a game of mistakes -- he came up large tonight," Caps coach Dale Hunter said. "He made the big stops when he had to and that what you need from your goaltending."
Although Toronto came out with some jump in the second period, the Capitals held their ground and put the pedal to the metal in the bottom half of the period.
Jeff Halpern extended the lead to 3-0 at 11:31 on his fourth of the season. Dmitry Orlov made a nice move around Kessel at the Leafs' blue line and then let go a low hard shot that Reimer got his pad on. But Halpern was able to get two uncontested whacks at the rebound, putting the second over a helpless Reimer for his fourth goal of the season.
Aucoin finished off a beautiful passing play on an odd-man rush to make it 4-0 less than four minutes later. The play began in the Capitals' zone after a Toronto scoring chance that didn't materialize and the puck squirted to Alex Ovechkin. The ever-dangerous forward skated down the wing and crossed the Toronto blue line, quarterbacking an odd-man rush. He quickly sent a tape-to-tape pass to Johansson on the far wing and the latter then threaded a pass to Aucoin, who got it past Reimer for his first goal of the season.
"I think we had a four on two and Ovie made a great pass that opened everything up and I saw Keith going to the net and I knew if I could just get it there he was probably going to score," Johansson said. "It was good to get that fourth goal to kind of shut it down."
Ovechkin finished with two points in his second game since a one-game absence with a lower-body injury and said he felt good, despite being stifled early on.
"Against our line they played pretty well, especially in the first, I made a couple of moves but their 'D' did a great job, especially Phaneuf," Ovechkin said. "I like playing against him. He's physical. When he hits me, I feel like I am in the game. I don't like when people don't hit me. I like being physical and I like it to be tough."
Both goaltenders made spectacular saves in the second period. James Reimer pushed across from left to right and got his stick on Matt Hendricks attempt to finish off a 2-on-1 just over five minutes into the second, while Neuvirth made a save that will land him on highlight reels for the foreseeable future.
With Toronto down 3-0, Carl Gunnarsson had the puck come right to him as he was unmarked just a few feet outside the Capitals crease. He fired a shot that looked to be a sure goal, but Neuvirth gloved it and held on, eliciting a gasp from the capacity crowd.
The Maple Leafs mounted a futile comeback attempt in the third period, as Armstrong scored his first goal of the season at 4:50. Neuvirth seemed to have a beat on it but was perhaps distracted by a charging Mike Brown, as the puck went off Neuvirth's pad and into the net.
With just under five minutes remaining, Connolly's bank shot from behind the goal line cut the Capitals' lead in half, which sparked the Maple Leafs' last-ditch effort. But it was too little, too late.
Prior to the game, Toronto held a ceremony to honor the 1962 Maple Leafs' squad that captured the Stanley Cup. Current Maple Leafs players wore jerseys with the names and numbers of the former player during the pre-game warmups.