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Capitals stay alive, hand Blues third straight loss

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The Washington Capitals still have a pulse.

Alex Ovechkin paved the way with his 50th goal of the season and two assists and the Capitals kept their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes alive with a 4-1 win against the slumping St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night.

Nicklas Backstrom scored two goals and Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Capitals (36-30-13, 85 points), who won their second straight. Braden Holtby, playing because former Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak wasn't comfortable facing his former teammates, stopped 28 shots and beat the Blues (52-20-7, 111 points) for the second time this season. John Carlson had two assists.

The Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-3 overtime win against the Phoenix Coyotes leaves Washington four points back. Each team has three games remaining.

"We talked this morning about all we can do is control our situation," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Try and focus on tonight, get a win and see what happens [Wednesday]."

The Capitals have three games left; Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks and Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Obviously, it's not a position we'd like to be in," Holtby said. "I think we've done a pretty good job of staying calm and just playing our game the last couple.

"It's hard, it's a tough thing, but we can only control what we can control now."

The Blues dropped their third in a row for the first time this season. Not only is their grip on the top spot in the Western Conference in jeopardy, but the Colorado Avalanche moved within two points of the Central Division leaders by beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-1.

It's the sixth game in a row and ninth in the past 11 that the Blues have scored two or fewer goals.

Maxim Lapierre scored for the Blues. Ryan Miller, who beat the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout on two occasions with the Buffalo Sabres earlier this season, stopped 18 shots in the loss.

To make matters worse, captain David Backes missed the second half of the game. Coach Ken Hitchcock said it's a lower-body injury and Backes, who appeared to be struck by a slap shot from Alexander Steen, is listed as day-to-day.

"It's just a funk," Blues left wing Brenden Morrow said. "The work is there, the execution hasn't been great, it's been pretty sloppy hockey.

"You know this team tries and they compete, that's never been the question. It's probably just working too hard trying to do two jobs instead of one."

Ovechkin's 50th of the season gave him five 50-goal seasons for his career but his first since the 2009-10 season. It came off a one-timer from the left circle with 2:06 left in the first period and gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

Derek Roy was in the box for the Blues serving a hooking penalty and Ovechkin took the feed from Carlson and rifled a shot over Miller's left shoulder. It was Ovechkin's 23rd power-play goal.

Ovechkin tied Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito and Pavel Bure for sixth all-time in the NHL in 50-goal seasons. Each had five. Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky lead the NHL with nine, followed by Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux, each with six.

"It means a lot," Ovechkin said. "That's a big number and it's going to be there my whole life.

"It's history. It's nice to be with that company and I'm pretty sure my family is very happy and proud of me. It's a big number."

The Blues were buzzing early in the second and got the equalizer from Lapierre, who took Steve Ott's shot from the left point after he intercepted Marcus Johansson's clearing attempt. Lapierre got a hole of the puck and slid it past Holtby at 2:39 to tie the game 1-1.

But in a 4-on-4 situation, Grabovski's first goal in 14 games, a slap shot from the left point that beat Miller to the short side, gave Washington a 2-1 lead at 8:52. Backstrom then took a pass from Ovechkin in the slot and snapped a shot past Miller with 1:10 left to make it 3-1.

"I thought we were really on top of the mark, efficient and then when we got down 3-1, we just seemed to lose our energy," Hitchcock said. "... The third goal, I think that took the energy out of us. We didn't play near as well. We had so many shifts in the zone but not scoring.

"I think quite frankly, I think we're half bought-in, half not the things we need to do."

The Capitals took advantage of another power play when Backstrom fired a wrister from the right circle past Miller, who was screened on the play by Troy Brouwer, 16 seconds into the third period to give Washington a three-goal lead.

The Blues fired 29 shots at Holtby, Washington blocked 26 to the Blues' six, and the Blues missed the net 25 times to Washington's four.

"We had a ton of chances that we didn't convert on," said Steen, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with an upper-body injury. "I feel like we've got to bear down on some of these chances ... vital times in the game which end up costing us in the end.

"I had three really good looks tonight and didn't convert on them. I have to be a lot better; I have to be able to put those away. ... I've got to take this one. I've got to score. Other than that, I didn't think they had that much. They had power play goals ... timely goals."

It was Washington's first visit to St. Louis since Dec. 1, 2010. The Capitals also defeated the Blues 4-1 on Nov. 17 in Washington.

"I thought the 'D' did a great job," Oates said. "They're obviously a very good hockey team over there and I think we frustrated them [Tuesday]."

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