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Caps beat Rangers 2-0 for 13th win in a row at home

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- Jose Theodore's most recent playoff start was in this building against the same opponent he faced Saturday night. This one was a lot more pleasant.

In a contest that resembled a postseason game, Theodore stopped all 30 shots he faced to earn first shutout since last March 17 in a 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers at the  Verizon Center.

"It is the kind of game you have to play in the playoffs, and tonight I thought we really responded well," said Theodore, who gave up four goals to the Rangers in last spring's playoff opener and didn't start another postseason game. "We might have been able to score more goals in the third [period] but we didn't give them much defensively."

The Capitals extended a franchise record with their 13th consecutive win at home and continued a march toward the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference -- and possibly the Presidents' Trophy. Washington has not lost at Verizon Center since Dec. 28 against the Carolina Hurricanes and owns a League-best 25-3-3 home record.

Theodore is now 12-0-2 in his last 14 decisions. The 33-year-old is trying to fend off a pair of 21-year-olds -- Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth -- to be the team's go-to goaltender in the playoffs.

That was the position he held entering Washington's first-round playoff series against the Rangers last spring, but Boudreau went to Varlamov for Game 2 after Theodore allowed four goals in a series-opening loss.

Theodore hasn't lost a game in regulation since Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay and has yielded only one goal in his two starts since the break for the Winter Olympics.

"I thought he was by far our best player," Boudreau said of Theodore. "He's brimming with confidence and we hope he can keep it up."

The Caps needed Theodore's brilliance to help overcome the goal drought by Alex Ovechkin, which has now reached six games. Ovechkin played 23:27 and had seven shots on Alex Auld, but has gone without a goal since getting three against Pittsburgh on Feb. 7.

In his place, the Caps got goals by Eric Fehr and newcomer Eric Belanger.

Fehr gave the Capitals the lead with the lone goal of the opening period. Washington had a 5-on-3 for 1:45 thanks to penalties assessed to Sean Avery and Marc Staal.

After nearly wasting the opportunity, Tomas Fleischmann carried the puck into the offensive zone and both Brooks Laich and Fehr snuck behind the defense. New York defenseman Dan Girardi deflected Fleischmann's pass – which appeared to be intended for Laich -- but the puck went right to Fehr near the right post, and he directed it past goaltender Alex Auld at 10:56 with 2 seconds remaining on Avery's minor.

Fehr's name was involved with plenty of trade rumors before Tuesday's deadline. But not only is he still with the Capitals, he has goals in the past two games and 17 on the season in 54 games.

"I know I have to be playing at the top end of my game if I want to stay in the lineup every night," Fehr said. "That's what I am trying to do, and I'm trying to provide some energy for the team and just play the best I can."

Eric Belanger boosted Washington's lead with his first goal in a Capitals uniform. Laich collected a cross-ice pass from Alexander Semin and then sent a no-look, slap-pass to Belanger in the slot for his 14th goal of the year at 13:38 of the second period.

The Capitals added Belanger from Minnesota before the trade deadline Tuesday for a second-round pick. He centered the third line in his debut Thursday night against Tampa Bay, but was bumped up to the second unit with Brendan Morrison a healthy scratch.

"We fell asleep on the second goal," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Semin throws a cross-ice pass and we had two or three guys that just weren't ready. I thought that was the story of the game."

The Caps have won all three games since the Olympic break, but they'd feel better if Ovechkin were scoring the way he usually does. Counting his four games in the Olympics, Ovechkin has only two goals in the past 10 games he has played -- both of those came in Russia's Olympic opener against Latvia.

Nicklas Backstrom, who entered the night fourth in the League with 77 points, was also held of the scoresheet and has only one assist in the past three games.

"It is timing. Their timing is a little bit off," Boudreau said. "They were away for 17 days from playing with each other. I've got to believe the Russians and the Swedes had a totally different style of play than the Washington Capitals. I'm not worried about them."

Auld made 28 saves in his Rangers debut after being claimed off waivers a week ago, but New York was unable to give him any offensive support. The Rangers were able to score eight goals while going 1-0-1 in the two games Marian Gaborik missed after the Olympic break, but the return of the 35-goal scorer from a lower-body injury did nothing for their offense.

New York missed out on a few prime scoring opportunities, and short-circuited any chance of a late comeback by taking two penalties in the game's waning minutes. The Rangers lost for the first time in regulation in five games and remain outside the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference.

"We had a 2-on-0 and we didn't even get it to the net. They didn't kill us with scoring chances – when they had chances, they scored," Tortorella said. "We have to find a way when we have opportunities to at least get a shot on net. We struggled with that tonight."

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