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Capitals get one point in loss to Predators

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Patric Hornqvist's parents flew into Nashville from his native Sweden for three days to see his first child.

They got a bonus on Sunday when they saw their son score two goals in the Nashville Predators' 4-3 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals at Bridgestone Arena.

Hornqvist missed the Predators' 2-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 23 so he could be present when his wife Malin gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter.

"It was fun for them too, to see me score my 100th goal and then a big win," said Hornqvist, a right wing who was the last player selected in the 2005 NHL Draft. "They're only here for three days. Then they have to go back and work. Obviously, it was good timing."

It was good timing for Nashville, which improved to 7-4-1 in its past 12 games, but bad timing for Washington. The loss hurt the Capitals (34-28-13) in terms of the Eastern Conference's wild-card race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals, who have seven games left, are one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second-wild card spot; Columbus has a game in hand.

Washington has now lost three straight (0-1-2), including a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at home on Saturday.

"I thought we played better today than yesterday," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "There's moments where we didn't execute, but I thought as we got into the game we played better."

Craig Smith scored on a wrist shot to the stick side for Nashville in the second round of the shootout to win it. Predators goalie Carter Hutton (23 saves) picked up his 18th win when he made a right pad save on Nicklas Backstrom in the third round.

Backstrom earlier had tied the game 3-3 at 12:20 of the third period with a wrist shot from the right circle on the man advantage. Troy Brouwer scored two power-play goals for the Capitals.

Washington's even-strength play has not been what it needs it to be of late. Center Marcus Johansson was minus-3 Sunday. Nashville's five-man unit of defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi along with Hornqvist's line, which includes center Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen at left wing, were on ice for three even-strength goals and gave up one.

"That line was playing really well," Weber said. "They had a lot of jump. They were all over pucks and holding them in their zone."

Said Brouwer: "We do rely on [the power play] a lot and we need to rely on it because power play and penalty kill gets you through games, gets you through playoff series if you make it, but at the same point we've got to be able to function 5-on-5 and not consistently being minus 5-on-5 night in and night out."

Nashville (33-32-11) kept its slim postseason hopes alive. The Predators are seven points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the Western Conference's second wild-card spot.

Weber scored on a slap shot low to Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak's blocker side to put the Predators up 3-2 at 8:23 of the third period. Cullen entered Washington's zone, dropped the puck for Fisher and then drove to the net. Fisher left the puck for Weber, whose goal was his 21st of the season, tops among NHL defensemen. Weber is two goals shy of his career high.

Cullen was asked if he screened Halak on the goal.

"I don't know," he said. "The way Shea shoots that thing, you almost don't even need it. I mean, I've played for quite a while. I've just never seen anything like it, the accuracy and the velocity, so, nice to see it go in."

The Predators took a succession of penalties in the second period that allowed Washington to even the score at 2-2. Nashville was called for too many men on the ice at 11:43, which the Predators killed. Josi was then called for interference at 13:53, and Washington converted.

Brouwer scored his second goal of the game and 23rd on the season by backhanding a loose puck from the slot over Hutton at 14:22.

Weber proved to be a catalyst on a key sequence at the end of the first period that allowed Nashville to take a 2-1 lead into first intermission. Weber sprawled to break up a 2-on-1 led by Capitals wing Alex Ovechkin. Then he got up off the ice and cleared the puck out of the zone.

Weber said he relishes those situations, going up against another star.

"The guy's got 48 goals, so you know he's capable of scoring and he's done it for years so it's not like it's a one-time thing," Weber said. "He's a proven scorer and one of the best players in the world, so it's a big challenge and a lot of fun when you get the chance."

Hornqvist scored his second goal of the game 18 seconds later on a breakaway, roofing a shot past Halak from close range with 90 seconds left in the period. The goal was Hornqvist's 17th of the season.

Washington took a 1-0 lead as a result of Backstrom's strip of Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm in the Predators' zone. Backstrom fed Mike Green and the latter found Brouwer, who blasted a one-timer into an open net at 4:17. The goal was Brouwer's 22nd of the season.

Nashvillle answered 98 seconds later. Weber unleashed one of his trademark slap shots and Halak could not control the rebound. Hornqvist beat defenseman Patrick Wey to the puck and shoveled it in for his 16th goal.

Wey later fought Nashville's Rich Clune at 8:16 of the first; Wey took an uppercut that left him needing a few moments on the ice before regain his bearings. He did not return and Washington played with five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

Oates said the Capitals removed Wey from the game for precautionary reasons. Oates said Wey had not been tested for a concussion.

Halak's play was crucial in keeping Washington in the game. He stopped Smith with a stick save on a breakaway early in the second period and then in a 4-on-4 situation, he gloved Hornqvist's attempt at a hat trick when Hornqvist broke in alone and was denied on a wrist shot.

Halak, who started the season in the Central Division as a member of the St. Louis Blues, entered the game 10-3-3 against Nashville. The Predators narrowly got the best of him Sunday and continued its long-shot push with six games remaining.

"We need to be realistic," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "Our moons have to absolutely align for us to somehow get in. But, realistically, we've got a lot of pride in that room."

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