Alexander Ovechkin is shooting the Washington Capitals right into the middle of the playoff hunt.
Ovechkin scored twice, giving him an NHL-leading 54 goals, and played a big role in setting up Nicklas Backstrom's goal in a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night in a key Eastern Conference playoff-race matchup.
"It's a good night for the team. Big win," said Ovechkin, shrugging off his second-consecutive multigoal game after he scored three times in a 10-2 win over Boston on Monday.
The Capitals jumped into 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, a point behind Buffalo and two back of Philadelphia, which holds the final playoff berth.
"The last two years, we didn't play for something. ... We started thinking about vacation," Ovechkin said. "It's more interesting when you play for something."
Backstrom, who entered as the NHL's rookie scoring leader, had a goal and assist, while Olie Kolzig made 25 saves for his 299th career victory.
"He's a fantastic player," Kolzig said. "I don't know what else you guys can write about him, but he's the best I've ever played with."
In other NHL games, it was: Carolina 6, Atlanta 3; San Jose 3, Ottawa 2 in overtime; Detroit 4, St. Louis 1; Chicago 3, Anaheim 0; and Phoenix 2, Dallas 1.
At Buffalo, Ales Kotalik scored the lone goal for the suddenly slumping Sabres, who dropped to 2-4-1 in their past seven, and have two wins in their past eight home games (2-5-1).
"Mental mistakes have cost us goals," Sabres forward Derek Roy said. "We gave up four or five breakaways. ... We preached before the game to look over our shoulder and see where Ovechkin is. And we didn't do so."
Ovechkin opened the scoring 15 minutes in on a breakaway, when he sneaked in behind two Sabres defenders. He then had the Sabres looking the wrong way when he had a hand - but no assist - in setting up Backstrom's goal, scored 13:27 into the second period, 50 seconds after Ales Kotalik tied it at 1.
He sealed the victory, scoring with 6:41 left, when his snap shot from the left circle hit Miller's pad, but had enough power to trickle in.
At Atlanta, Eric Staal scored two goals and added an assist for the Hurricanes, who have won eight of 11 since losing at New Jersey on Feb. 9.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 43rd goal, second-most in the NHL, for Atlanta, winless in eight straight.
Patrick Marleau scored his second goal of the game 3:05 into overtime to lead San Jose to its seventh straight win.
The Sharks rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits in the third period, winning for just the third time in 23 games this season when they trailed after two periods.
Jason Spezza scored both goals for the visiting Senators, who have lost five of six.
Pavel Datsyuk scored twice to lift NHL-leading Detroit to its second straight win after a 1-8-2 stretch.
Johan Franzen and Brian Rafalski also scored for the Red Wings, and Dominik Hasek made 18 saves.
Erik Johnson got the goal for visiting St. Louis, which has lost seven of its last eight.
Rookie Corey Crawford stopped 19 shots to earn his first NHL win and shutout in his first start this season for Chicago.
Dustin Byfuglien and Cam Barker each had power-play goals and an assist, and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks, who ended visiting Anaheim's six-game winning streak.
At Dallas, Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves, and Peter Mueller and Shane Doan each scored for Phoenix.
Phoenix, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2002, crept within three points of Nashville and Vancouver for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Brad Winchester scored his first goal of the season for the Stars.