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Caps knock off Canadiens 4-3 in shootout

by John Kreiser
It's fair to say that of the 6,000 games in Montreal Canadiens' history, there have been few goals as spectacular as the one scored by Washington's Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday night.

There haven't been a whole lot of endings as disappointing, either.

The slumping Canadiens overcame a goal for the ages in the first period by the NHL's top goal-scorer, but weren't able to hang onto a third-period lead. Dave Steckel's tip-in with 2:57 left in regulation tied the score, and after a scoreless overtime, shootout goals by Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.

The loss was the fourth in five games for Montreal on its current road trip, though they're still six points ahead of ninth-place Carolina in the East.

"It was a better game, but I still hate losing," goalie Carey Price said.

Ovechkin scored 10:07 into the game on a play that rivals his spectacular goal at Phoenix on Jan. 16, 2006, during his rookie season. He used his backhand to bank the puck off the boards to get around defenseman Roman Hamrlik at the blue line, skated through the left circle and kept going even after he was hooked and jabbed off his skates by Kyle Chipchura.

But while sliding toward the crease, Ovechkin poked the puck past the right pad of Price for his League-high 42nd goal of the season -- and another instant classic.

"It shouldn't surprise any of us," teammate Mike Green said. "He loves to score, and he's going to score no matter how it goes in -- if it's on his stomach, back, whatever, he's going to try to score. I think I was more impressed with the backhand around the defenseman."

So which one was better -- this or the one at Phoenix?

"I've seen that one about 1,000 times on TV," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but [tonight's goal] was as amazing a goal as I've ever seen."

The pass to himself was something different, even for one of the NHL's most creative scorers.

"You have to try something new," said Ovechkin, on pace to score 60-plus goals for the second consecutive season. "Sometimes I try in practice, and Bruce says, 'What are you doing?' And I say, 'Sometimes I need to change my game,' so I'm changing and it's working."

Ovechkin's goal matched an early power-play goal by Christopher Higgins. Backstrom gave the Caps the lead with a power-play goal at 13:42, only to have Andrei Kostitsyn get Montreal's second man-advantage goal of the game at 17:03.

Tomas Plekanec put Montreal back in front 8:57 into the third period with Montreal's third extra-man goal. But with time starting to wind down, Steckel won a faceoff and raced to the slot to deflect Tom Poti's shot past Price to tie the game.

The shootout win gave the Caps a 23-4-1 mark at the Verizon Center, where they play their next four games. It also moved them past New Jersey into second place in the Eastern Conference.

"Who am I kidding? We're looking at what the standing is," Boudreau said. "It's getting late in February. I love looking at standings and counting games down. Races is what makes it exciting, whether it's hockey basketball, baseball. I think that makes it a lot of fun this time of year."



Montreal played without All-Star right wing Alex Kovalev, who was told by the team to stay home during the team's two-game swing through Washington and Pittsburgh in hopes the rest will help him snap out of a slump.

The loss was the Canadiens' 11th in their last 14 games, though the point moved them ahead of Florida and Buffalo into sixth place in the East.

Coach Guy Carbonneau was happy with his team's effort, if not the result.

"I thought overall we played a great game against a team that was playing extremely well lately and that's been tough to beat at home," Carbonneau said. "We've been struggling lately, so to come here and play the way we've done is really encouraging."



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