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Capitals end long losing streak in San Jose

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- It took a shootout to do it, but the Washington Capitals beat the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center for the first time since Oct. 30, 1993.

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom scored in the tiebreaker Saturday night, lifting the Capitals to a 3-2 victory. Washington had failed to win in its past 12 visits to San Jose, going 0-11 with a tie, and had lost six in a row to San Jose overall. The Capitals beat the Sharks for the second time in their past 19 games.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby stopped two of three shots in the shootout before Backstrom won it with a backhander past Antti Niemi.

"We've had a lot of trouble in this rink," Holtby said. "Part of it is due to the fact that they have a good team every year. They've always been a really good home team. We've had our work cut out for us. To get that one off the back tonight feels pretty good."

Washington (34-27-11) tied the Detroit Red Wings with 79 points in the race for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Red Wings own the tiebreaker because they have two games in hand.

The Sharks (46-18-8) reached the 100-point mark and moved three points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks in the race for first place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks could have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory after the Boston Bruins defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 earlier Saturday.

"We would have liked to have had both points but you have to look at how we played," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I thought we played solid defense against a solid offense. You play 82 games and you are going to have some of those bounces."

Both of Washington's goals, by Eric Fehr in the first period and Chris Brown in the third, ricocheted into the net off Sharks.

Holtby made his first start since March 6, replacing Jaroslav Halak, who was on the bench with a lower-body injury. Holtby didn't find out he was going to play until during the pregame skate, but he made 34 saves for his 20th win of the season.

"I'm very happy for him," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "Called on when it wasn't expected, and he played great for us."

"Obviously it was a challenge," Holtby said. "You don't want to go too long without starting but we've been playing very well lately so it hasn't been an issue. I was given an opportunity to start tonight and I wanted to be there for the guys because they've been playing well. We came through again tonight."

Oates said Halak should be ready to play Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center.

The Capitals finished their three-game California road trip with five points, beating the Anaheim Ducks and Sharks and losing to the Kings in a shootout.

"We knew these were going to be some of the toughest games of the season coming out here with the way these guys are playing so we did our job here, but we can't let ourselves down at home now," Fehr said. "We have to play well at home and continue to play a playoff-style game. We've had a lot less turnovers and we've played a greasier style of hockey, which has worked for us."

James Sheppard scored an unassisted goal on a breakaway at 5:07 of the third period, giving the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Sheppard blocked Jason Chimera's long shot, tracked down the puck and raced the other way. He put the puck through Holtby's pads with a backhand shot from close range for his third goal of the season.

"I had some momentum to get down the ice and I was lucky enough to get through his five-hole," Sheppard said.

The Capitals answered with Brown's first career NHL goal at 12:30 of the third period. Brown fired a shot from the slot that bounced off Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle and past Niemi, who made 23 saves.

"It was a pretty special feeling," Brown said of his goal, "but we got the win and that's the most important. We got the two points and kept the season alive. We have to keep winning so that way we can keep moving up in the standings. The other teams are winning too. As long as we keep doing our job things will happen."

The Sharks went on a power play with 2:18 left in regulation when Alex Ovechkin was sent off for high sticking Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They kept their top power-play unit on the ice for the entire two minutes and had four shots but couldn't get the puck past Holtby.

The Capitals turned up the heat in overtime, outshooting the Sharks 5-0, but Niemi made every save. Dmitry Orlov and Backstrom each had a good chance to end the game early in overtime, but Niemi stopped Orlov's blast and rejected Backstrom's shot on the rebound.

Fehr gave Washington the lead midway through the first period. San Jose's Patrick Marleau answered with a goal six seconds before intermission.

The Capitals took a 1-0 lead at 11:25 of the first period on Fehr's unassisted goal, though Fehr actually got a huge assist from the Sharks. After San Jose defenseman Matt Irwin blocked Fehr's shot from the right circle, his partner, Justin Braun, tried to clear the puck from in front from of the net. But the puck bounced off San Jose forward Matt Nieto's skate and ricocheted past Niemi.

"Those bounces are unfortunate," Nieto said. "It happens so fast you really can't react to them. This game was as huge as the last one," he said of the Sharks' 3-2 victory Thursday night against the Ducks. "I thought we played pretty well. It was just a night the bounces didn't go our way."

San Jose pulled even on Marleau's 30th of the season.

Nieto intercepted Washington defenseman Mike Green's pass behind the Capitals net and tried to jam the puck past Holtby. Logan Couture raced in and banged the puck off of Holtby's pads, and Marleau ripped the rebound into the back of the net from close range.

Marleau, who also scored in the shootout, reached the 30-goal mark for the seventh time in his career.

The Sharks outshot Washington 16-6 in the second period, thanks in part to two power plays, but Holtby stopped every one, and neither team scored.

"Those were two strange goals, but we didn't really have too much sustained offense in their zone," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "They're quick to close on us. I thought we carried the game most of the night but they go home with two points and we don't."

Snapping their long winless streak at San Jose made these two points even more special for the Capitals.

"It's been a long time," Oates said. "They're a very good hockey team. Their home record is excellent. It always has been. It's always tough to play here. It's exciting but tough. We finally got it done. We need the points, so it's good."

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