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Avalanche shut down Caps' attack

by Brian Hunter
It's make or break time for the Colorado Avalanche, who started a six-game road trip Thursday night with the kind of all-around team effort they'll need in order to make up ground in the Western Conference.

Ryan Smyth opened the scoring en route to a three-point night, Andrew Raycroft stopped 28 shots and the Avalanche handed the Washington Capitals a rare loss at Verizon Center, 4-1, giving Tony Granato his 100th NHL coaching victory.

Defenseman Adam Foote scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, his first of the season, and Colorado also got goals from Tyler Arnason and Wojtek Wolski. As a team, Granato praised the defensive effort that kept noted Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin off the scoreboard, ending his 10-game point streak.

"You can be in (Ovechkin's) face as much as you want to, but if you don't have the support behind you, it's no good," Granato said. "And I thought tonight, away from the puck, we supported the pressure we put on their skill guys with discipline and being in a position where if they got beat, we were in a position to recover with coverage behind them. So it was fun to watch, how well we played defensively."

Colorado has 57 points, tied for the fewest in the West along with St. Louis and Phoenix, and yet is only five points behind Edmonton for eighth. With so many teams in front of them, however, the Avalanche knew there was little margin for error as they started on their longest road trip of the season.

"Today, from start to finish, was probably as solid a game as we've played all year," Granato said. "If you look at what we’ve done in the past week or so, we've played a lot of games like this. We didn't win them all but we battled like crazy and fortunately we got rewarded tonight."

Nicklas Backstrom scored the only goal for the Capitals, who dropped to 23-5-1 at home this season. Four of those losses have come against teams from the West. Jose Theodore, who played for the Avalanche before leaving to sign with Washington after last season, finished with 21 saves.

"We knew they were going to be strong defensively, and they were really going to clog the middle and forecheck and play off of our turnovers," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I give (Colorado) credit. They played their game to a 'T.'"

Foote, who hadn't scored since early in the 2007-08 season while playing for Columbus, cruised into the slot and converted a Milan Hejduk feed past Theodore 7:46 into the second period to give Colorado a 2-1 lead they would carry into the third. The Avalanche are 18-0-0 this season when leading after two periods.

Arnason extended the lead at 3:33 after the Capitals turned the puck over in their own zone, and Wolski provided the finishing touch when he scored off a 2-on-1 feed from Smyth with 7:24 remaining.

Smyth had opened the scoring with 9:33 left in the first. Theodore tried to seal a loose puck against the left post, but Smyth kept whacking away at it and knocked it over the goal line without a whistle blowing to stop play.

"That's what he does. He kind of pokes at you," Theodore said. "On the first goal I thought obviously on the second whack there should be a whistle but he kept whacking. That's what he's done all through his career."

Backstrom got the Capitals even with 14.6 seconds left in the period, taking a quick crossing pass from Tomas Fleischmann and firing a shot that deflected off the post and beat Raycroft. Otherwise, the Avalanche goalie was spectacular, stopping the final 21 shots he faced.

"I think we played a little nervous tonight and it paid off for us," Raycroft said. "Everyone was coming back to the middle, we didn't give them any second chances and no real odd-man rushes."

Hurricanes 4, Capitals 1
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Four points in two nights has given Carolina a major boost in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Jussi Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal against his former team and Joe Corvo provided insurance with a pair of 5-on-3 goals 39 seconds apart as the Hurricanes overcame their recent struggles at RBC Center to dispose of Tampa Bay on Friday.

Eric Staal also scored and Carolina's defense made it an easy night for goalie Cam Ward, who was only forced to make 12 saves. The Hurricanes, who won 6-2 at Long Island on Thursday, now have 65 points, just one behind Buffalo and Florida for seventh and two back of Montreal for sixth.

"Five games in seven nights is hard to explain," coach Paul Maurice said after his team completed that stretch with a 3-2-0 mark. "In a full-contact sport that's as tough a schedule as you can get. I'm really proud of the way they fought through it. I don't think it was an easy game. I know the score says it was but I don't think it was."

Vaclav Prospal scored for the Lightning and the game was deadlocked at 1 until the latter stages of the second period. That's when Jokinen, who had six goals and 16 points in 46 games for Tampa earlier this season, scored his first since a trade to Carolina. Jokinen controlled the puck in the slot and beat Mike McKenna to his glove side with 4:30 left to put the Hurricanes ahead to stay.

"I think every player who has been traded, they want to win their first game (against their old team) so badly. I'm not the exception to that," said Jokinen, who was dealt Feb. 7 for a pair of players and a draft pick. "And obviously how bad we've been playing in front of the home fans, it was a big win for us and it was nice to get a goal, too."

Carolina had been outscored 15-3 in losing three straight on home ice, but Corvo made sure Tampa didn't rally in the third. The Lightning also shot themselves in the foot by taking three penalties in a span of 1:07 early in the period to set up an extended two-man advantage for the Hurricanes.

Corvo took advantage at 3:38 and again at 4:17 with slap shots past McKenna, who had to deal with Tuomo Ruutu standing in front screening him. Corvo now has 11 goals for the season.

"It takes a lot of courage for somebody to stand in front of the net and not really be worried about where he's going to get hit," Corvo said. "As a shooter I try to recognize when I'm wide open and hopefully the guy in front of the net notices that, that I'd really like to lean into it when I've got a lot of time like that. But it definitely takes a lot of courage on his part."

In addition to taking bad penalties, the Lightning didn't help their cause by coming out flat and putting only one shot on goal during the first period. The Hurricanes took 14 shots and got one past McKenna, with Staal showing off some nifty stickwork to collect his 27th at the 8:30 mark.

Prospal got Tampa on the board 1:53 into the second with a wrist shot that eluded Ward. It was only the second shot he faced, but he would stop the final 11 to secure the victory.

"I can't imagine being any more down than this," Lightning center Jeff Halpern said. "Anytime you lose and you're not in the playoffs, it's a miserable feeling. ... Losing sucks. Being out of the playoffs sucks. Coming out and giving up leads in third periods, losing by three, four or five goals, yeah, it's miserable."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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