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Capitals creep closer with dominant effort

by Brian Hunter
Cristobal Huet kept the Devils from finding the back of the net for his third shutout on the season, and his first blanking in a Capitals' uniform.

If Cristobal Huet’s first start for the Washington Capitals was any indication of how the veteran goaltender will play down the stretch, the battle for the Southeast Division just got a whole lot tighter.

Huet made 18 saves for his third shutout of the season and the 16th of his NHL career, and fellow newcomer Sergei Fedorov assisted on the game-winning goal as the Capitals humbled the New Jersey Devils 4-0 Friday at Prudential Center.

“It was an ideal start, I would say,” said Huet, acquired from Montreal for a second-round draft pick. “We can't stop here. We have a tough schedule ahead. It's a good team win.”

Mike Green, Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin and Donald Brashear scored for Washington, which climbed to within three points of the idle Carolina Hurricanes for the lead in the Southeast and still has a pair of games in hand.

“We need to be consistent. We have to put a run together,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. “We win two, lose one, it might not be good enough. We need to win three, four, five, six in a row, and beyond, to get this. That’s what all the playoff teams do. I don’t think we’ve peaked by any stretch, but we want to start building on it and becoming a better team right now.”

Not even a seventh straight game without a goal for Alexander Ovechkin could keep the Capitals down. Ovechkin, who last tallied Feb. 13 at Atlanta, is now mired in a career-long goal drought, but he assisted on Kozlov’s goal early in the third and has five helpers during that seven-game span.

The Devils, who had gained at least a point in nine straight games (7-0-2) since a 2-1 loss to Anaheim on Feb. 8, missed a chance to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division and Montreal for the Eastern Conference lead. The Canadiens could leap over New Jersey into first with a win Saturday night at Bell Centre.

“You gotta forget about it. I think that’s the beauty of these games, you want to jump back up,” said Martin Brodeur, who stopped 25 shots and held the Devils in the game for two periods. “We’re going to go into a great atmosphere in Montreal and it won’t take much to get back into it from the first period over there.”

The first period Friday featured only 10 shots, as each team sized the other up while unveiling a few new players. Huet was the highest-profile, but the Capitals also had Fedorov making his debut while Bryce Salvador was on the starting defense pairing for the Devils.

Washington had a 12-10 advantage in shots during the second, as the scoring chances started to pick up. Huet kept the Devils from striking first when he denied Zach Parise on a breakaway midway through the period, then Brodeur used a pokecheck to knock the puck off Ovechkin’s stick as he cut across the crease.

Green struck on a power play at 11:27 to give Huet all the offense he would need. Fedorov controlled the puck along the boards and made a backhand pass to Semin in the right circle. Semin then threw a cross-ice pass to Green, whose one-timer from the left circle found the net behind Brodeur and gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Green’s 17 goals and eight power-play goals lead all NHL defensemen.

“I had a chance before I received the pass to look back and I saw Semin was coming in,” Fedorov said of his role in the play. “I just put the puck there.”

Instead of sitting back in the third and trying to protect the slim advantage, Washington instead controlled the play and outshot New Jersey 13-2 in adding on. It took only 43 seconds for Ovechkin to find Kozlov in front of the net for his 14th of the season.

Things went from bad to worse for the Devils when Patrik Elias took a double high-sticking minor, and Semin made them pay at 8:59 by scoring his 20th off a cross-ice feed from Tom Poti. Not to be outdone, Brashear capped the offensive burst with 2:55 remaining by scoring his fourth.

“The last couple of games we haven’t played 60 minutes, even though we snuck some points out,” Devils forward Brian Gionta said. “Tonight it caught up to us.”

Boudreau, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier with the way the Capitals responded to the deals made prior to the trade deadline by general manager George McPhee.

“When George made the trades, he made them for real professionals and experienced guys who knew what it took to (step) in,” Boudreau said. “These guys were just as advertised.”

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

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