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Flames respond with win at Washington

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- Barely more than 24 hours after looking a like a group with little left to give, the Calgary Flames resuscitated their postseason hopes with a critical road win against the NHL's top team.

Rene Bourque had a goal and two assists and Miikka Kiprusoff turned aside 31 shots to help the Flames earn a 5-3 victory Sunday afternoon against the Washington Capitals at a sold-out Verizon Center.

The win brought Calgary within four points of Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference before the Avalanche played in San Jose later Sunday night.

"Obviously every game now is such a huge game," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "We know obviously our opponent here and where they are at with their stature in the League and how good offensively they are, but I thought we did a really, really good job in the first two periods of shutting down their opportunities."

Calgary seized control of the contest with a dominant first period. The Flames struck four times in the first 20 minutes on just 11 shots. One day after dropping a 5-0 decision to Boston, the Flames met the challenge to be better authored before the contest by Sutter.

"Brent just came in here and said, 'We have got to throw it on the line,' and guys responded," defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "Guys were playing hard, we were physical, we were winning battles along the walls and we were good in our zone. That's more of the things we want to do all the time."

Their first two goals were almost identical. Ales Kotalik sent a backhanded shot from near the goal line to the left of Washington’s net and it deflected off the inside of goaltender Jose Theodore's left leg and trickled across at 2:33.

Ian White was a little further away from the net along the goal line with his team on the power play, but it was the same result -- a backhanded shot that bounced off Theodore and into the net at 8:28.

"We didn't have any energy," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We looked like we were skating in quicksand and their sense of urgency was so tremendous."

Jay Bouwmeester slipped behind the Capitals defense and redirected a centering pass from Bourque past Theodore at 10:34 to make it 3-0 and chase the veteran goalie.

It was the first time Theodore has been pulled for poor play since Nov. 11 against the New York Islanders and only the second time this season. Theodore remains 17-0-2 in his last 19 decisions -- a franchise record for longest streak without a regulation loss.

"I personally wouldn't blame that on Jose," defenseman Mike Green said. "I think we came out flat and we didn't give him a chance. Sometimes it happens, but by no means was that Jose's fault. It was unfortunate it happened because he's been playing so well, but knowing him he will back on his game the next time out."

Added Boudreau: "I just thought he was fighting the puck -- every shot was fighting the puck. I didn't think he had it today. He will be back on Tuesday [against Ottawa]. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period. We just weren't ready to play."

Semyon Varlamov replaced Theodore and yielded a soft goal just before the end of the first period. Niklas Hagman backhanded a shot from the top of the right circle that fooled the Russian rookie at 19:40. He made a save before the intermission that was met with a sarcastic cheer from the displeased patrons, and then the Capitals left the ice to a smattering of boos and a 4-0 deficit.

Alex Ovechkin put Washington on the board with a power-play goal at 3:49 of the second period. He beat Kiprusoff to the short side, as the Flames' goalie may have been shading too far to his right to ward off a potential pass to Alexander Semin. It was Ovechkin's 46th goal of the season.

Calgary pushed its lead back to four at 17:34 of the second. Bourque was able to get past Nicklas Backstrom -- who was moonlighting on defense because Joe Corvo was caught up ice -- with a pretty spin move and his shot glanced off Varlamov and into the net. It fluttered high in the air, but defenseman Tom Poti was unable to snag it with his glove before it dropped into the goal.

David Steckel made it 5-2 just 77 seconds later. He one-timed a pass from Quintin Laing between Kiprusoff's legs for his fifth of the season.

Mathieu Perreault, called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League before the game, cut Calgary's lead to 5-3 early in the third period. Ovechkin blasted a shot wide of the net, but Perreault was able to tuck the carom inside the left post as he was skating by.

"Just like a lot of other teams, they tried to push back," Kiprusoff said. "They have a lot of skill and a lot of scoring. They showed that tonight and we were able to survive. That's a huge win for this team. It's not the easiest building to take those points."

The assist was point No. 100 on the year for Ovechkin, which puts him one behind Vancouver's Henrik Sedin and also gives him four 100-point campaigns in his first five NHL seasons.

It was Washington's first regulation loss since Mar. 12 against Tampa Bay and only the third since Jan. 12. The loss temporarily prevented the Capitals from clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but it happened later Sunday after New Jersey's 5-1 loss to Philadelphia.

"Whether or not we need it right now, we need to play like a desperate team if we're going to go far in the playoffs," Green said. "Until we can understand that, we are going to be in these types of situations."

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