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Postgame Notebook, 3-3-08

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
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50/50 – Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season at 6:18 of the first period in Monday’s game, joining Dennis Maruk and Peter Bondra as the only players in Washington Capitals history to notch a pair of 50-goal seasons.

Ovechkin also joins Pavel Bure, Dany Heatley and Jaromir Jagr as the fourth player in this decade to record two 50-goal campaigns.

The Caps left winger also added two more goals and a pair of assists in notching the second five-point game of his NHL career. In doing so, he recorded the fifth hat trick of his career, matched his single-season career high in goals (52) and regained the NHL scoring lead, moving two points ahead of Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who has 88 points. Both Ovechkin and Malkin have played in 67 games and have 15 remaining.

Finally, Ovechkin joined some elite and exclusive company in netting his 50th goal of the season in the same game in which he recorded a hat trick. He joins Wayne Gretzky on that list. The man known simply as “The Great One” is the only other player ever to achieve the feat, and he did it three times.

Goaltending Showdown –
Both starting backstops – Washington’s Cristobal Huet and Boston’s Tim Thomas – came into Monday’s game on the heels of strong recent performances. Huet blanked the New Jersey Devils on 18 shots last Friday in his Capitals debut, and Thomas came in with a 3-0 record, a .960 save pct. a shutout and an 0.97 goals against average in his previous three starts.

Both netminders also came in with a history of dominance over their opponent.

Huet came in with an 8-2-0 record, a 1.93 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and three shutouts in 11 career games against the Bruins, all over the last three seasons.

Thomas entered the game with a record of 8-0-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and one shutout in nine career games against the Capitals, including wins in his last five games versus Washington. Thomas had allowed as many as three goals in only one of his nine games against the Caps (a 4-3 shootout win last March).

The Caps surpassed the three-goal on Thomas at 8:29 of the first period in this one. Boston coach Claude Julien changed netminders like he would change defensemen in this one, going back and forth between Thomas and Alex Auld a few times. Thomas was dented for seven goals on 24 shots and Auld three on 10.

Huet left the game with back spasms after 40 minutes, but still skated off with his ninth career win over the Bruins. The only other goaltenders with eight-or-more wins versus Boston over the last three seasons are Buffalo’s Ryan Miller (9) and Philadelphia’s Martin Biron (8).

Power Switch – Washington’s power play struggled in Saturday’s frustrating 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Caps’ extra-man unit was back on the beam in Monday’s romp over the Bruins.

Washington went 4-for-7 with the extra man, and Ovechkin added to his league-leading total with his 18th of the season. Brooks Laich enjoyed his second two-goal game in a span of a week, and tallied both of his goals in this game on the power play. Coming into this season, Lacih had three career power play goals in the NHL. He has five power play strikes this season.

Matt Bradley netted the Caps’ 10th and final goal of the night on the power play. The goal was Bradley’s first power play goal in his NHL career and it came in his 396th game in the league.

Big Night for Brads – Bradley scored two goals in a game for the third time in his NHL career. All three of Bradley’s two-goal games have come since he joined the Capitals at the start of the 2005-06 season.

The rugged right winger also added an assist in recording the first three-point game of his NHL career.

No Close Shave This Time –
Monday’s game ended a streak in which 16 straight Boston-Washington games had been decided by one or two goals with more than half (nine) going into overtime. Eleven of the 16 games were one-goal affairs and two more ended in ties. Prior to Monday, neither team had scored more than three goals in any of the last 11 meetings between the Caps and Bruins.

Three-Spot – Caps winger Eric Fehr recorded a single-game career high with three assists and three points. Two of his three helpers on the night came on the power play, and three of his four assists this season have come with the man-advantage.

Poti Power – Caps defenseman Tom Poti has had a very solid season in his first campaign with the Caps, but he’s been particularly strong of late. Poti had a pair of assists and was plus-3 in Monday’s game. He now has six assists and is plus-7 in his last four games.

Brash Bouts –
Donald Brashear fought Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton on Monday, his 10th and 11th fights of the season. Brashear had 14 fights last season and 10 in 2005-06.

Monday marked the first time that Brashear fought twice in the same game since he went with the Rangers’ Colton Orr and Brendan Shanahan on Dec. 30, 2006.

Tape-to-Tape Twins – Ovechkin and rookie center Nicklas Backstrom swapped beautiful tape-to-tape home run passes to set each other up in Monday’s game. Backstrom sprung Ovechkin on a breakaway for a goal in the first period and Ovechkin returned the favor in the second. The goal was Backstrom’s 10th of the season and his first in 20 games, since Jan. 17 against Edmonton.

Backstrom recorded his third four-point game of the season and pulled in front of Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league lead in scoring among rookies. Backstrom has 56 points to Kane’s 55. With 46 assists on the season, Backstrom is eight behind Ovechkin’s single-season rookie record of 54 established in 2005-06.

200 Club –
Brashear’s second period goal was the 200th point of his NHL career.

Game in Hand –
Whether they won it 3-2 or 10-2, Monday’s game was of utmost importance to Washington. Coming off Saturday’s loss to the Leafs, the Capitals needed two points badly. More to the point, Monday’s game was one of the two games in hand the Caps had on Southeast Division frontrunning Carolina.

As the saying goes: “games in hand only mean something if you win them.” The Caps made sure this one meant something. Washington now trails the Hurricanes by three points and has one game in hand.

Tough Row to Hoe – The Caps play four games this week, all against Eastern Conference opponents that have given them a great deal of difficulty since the lockout. Even after tonight’s win over the Bruins, Washington’s combined record against its foes this week – Boston, Buffalo and Pittsburgh – is 6-19-7 since the start of the 2005-06 season.

With Monday’s win over the Bruins, Buffalo is the only Eastern Conference team that Washington has not defeated this season. The Caps will get one last chance to earn two points against the Sabres on Wednesday in Buffalo.

Tamed – Hulking Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara entered Monday’s game as one of the hottest players in the NHL. In his prior 11 games, Chara had eight goals and 11 points and was plus-6. He has closed to within two goals of Washington’s Mike Green, who leads NHL defenseman with 17 tallies this season.

More importantly for a shutdown defenseman, Chara had helped fuel Boston’s six-game winning streak by holding Carolina’s Eric Staal, Florida’s Olli Jokinen, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, Ottawa’s Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, Pittsburgh’s Malkin, and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk without an even-strength goal in those half-dozen contests. That’s extremely impressive when you consider that all seven of those players has already reached the 30-goal plateau this season.

Although he was not on the ice for any of Ovechkin’s three goals on Monday, Chara was been indirectly responsible for fueling the Caps’ six-goal outburst in the first period. With Boston down 2-0 in the early minutes of the first, Chara engaged in an ill-advised fight with veteran Caps tough guy Donald Brashear.

Coming into Monday’s match, Brashear was averaging 7:51 a night in ice time and Chara 27:04. Getting the Bruins best player off the ice for five minutes was a coup for Brashear, and the Caps scored twice while Chara was cooling his heels in the penalty box. Chara was whistled for two minors later in the game, and the Capitals scored on both of the ensuing power plays.

So while the stat sheet shows that Chara finished the night with an assist and an even defensive rating, he hurt his team far more than he helped it in this one.

Happy Birthday – To longtime Capitals winger and defensive Kelly Miller, born on this day in 1963. And to current Caps winger Alexander Semin, who was born on this day in 1984.

On This Day in NHL History –
Ex-Cap defenseman and current Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville netted his first NHL goal on this date in 1979, scoring for the Maple Leafs against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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