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Ovechkin does it again for Caps

by Brian Hunter
It's open to debate for the fans around the NHL who the bigger superstar is -- Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. But the Washington Capitals have had all the success of late in a rivalry that is becoming more heated as its key participants become less enamored of one another.

Ovechkin scored his League-leading 43rd goal and added an assist Sunday afternoon to lead the surging Caps to a 5-2 win at Verizon Center over Crosby and the fading Pittsburgh Penguins, a game that saw he and Crosby engage in a brief altercation late in the second period that had both stars still chirping in the locker room afterward.

Washington had opened up its three-goal lead on goals 25 seconds apart by Shaone Morrisonn and Brooks Laich when Ovechkin and Crosby came together along the boards, near the team benches. Ovechkin nudged Crosby with his shoulder and the Pittsburgh captain responded by shoving Ovechkin's upper body over the boards into the Caps' bench.

Ovechkin responded by taking his arm and squeezing it around Crosby's neck as linesman Greg Devorski skated in to break up the skirmish. Crosby lost his helmet at the end of the exchange -- no penalties were called -- and Ovechkin mocked him with a "bye bye" wave as he went over the boards back onto his bench.

"I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty," Ovechkin said, responding to a charge Crosby made after Washington won in Pittsburgh last month. "That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem."

The Capitals as a whole have become a big problem for the Penguins since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach. Sunday's win made it three in a row in this season's series, and they're 4-1-1 during Boudreau's tenure.

"We always want to beat those guys. We might face them down the road in the playoffs so we want to put in their minds that they can't beat us," Washington forward Donald Brashear said. "That's the spirit you've got to have and you've got to have the killer instinct. If it were us that was down there, I'm sure they would want to push us out of the way and we are just trying to do the same thing."

Pittsburgh, which fell to 2-1-1 under new coach Dan Bylsma, stayed four points out of a playoff spot, perhaps leading to some of Crosby's frustration that boiled over in the exchange with Ovechkin.

"I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind," Crosby said. "So I just gave him a shot back. That's hockey, and he likes to run around these days, so that was it."

Washington, which edged two points ahead of idle New Jersey for second in the Eastern Conference, also received goals from Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov in addition to a 31-save performance by goalie Jose Theodore.

Maxime Talbot and Sergei Gonchar tallied for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed all five goals on 20 shots before Mathieu Garon relieved after Laich's goal with 6:39 left in the second. Garon turned aside all 14 shots he faced.

"There's a lot of tension between these two teams and it's good," Penguins defenseman Hal Gill said. "We have to rise up and be better with it."

Ovechkin and Semin made Pittsburgh pay for a couple of first-period penalties, sandwiching goals around one by Talbot for a 2-1 Washington lead after 20 minutes. Nicklas Backstrom had the primary assist on both goals.

"He's gonna get better. A lot of people want to credit Alex, but I credit Nicky with a lot of Alex's success as well," Boudreau said. "He's such a good passer. He's more well-rounded and he's killing penalties now. He's gonna be great."

Fedorov got the Caps going again 56 seconds into the middle period. Gonchar drew the Penguins within one, scoring his second in five games since returning from a shoulder injury, but Morrisonn's third of the season opened the floodgates and Laich quickly followed by chasing Fleury to the bench.

The teams have one regular-season meeting left, March 8 in Washington, meaning Sunday's game should still be fresh in the minds of its two chief combatants when they battle again.

"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," Crosby said of Ovechkin's theatrics. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."

"What I can say about him? He is a good player, but he talks too much," Ovechkin quipped.

Hurricanes 5, Avalanche 2 | Video

Getting to the postseason is far from a guarantee right now for Carolina. But the Hurricanes have buckled down of late and are playing the type of game that could take them far if they do make it.

Matt Cullen's first career hat trick, helped by a pair of assists each from Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney, led Carolina past Colorado on Sunday afternoon, its third win in a row and second straight at RBC Center.

"We've been playing some pretty good playoff hockey, I think," Cullen said. "I think the guys have realized the opportunity that we have in front of us. We're right on the doorstep. We've talked a lot about bringing a playoff mentality right now, and we've seen that the last few games and gotten results."

Joni Pitkanen's goal with 2:54 left in the second period put the Hurricanes ahead for good and Ryan Bayda also scored as they climbed back to within a point of eighth in the Eastern Conference. Cam Ward stopped 17 shots, after needing to make only 12 saves in a win over Tampa Bay on Friday.

"You look at the standings and you say, 'You're always chasing eighth,'" Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "But we're four points out of fourth. ... We've won four of the last five games. Had we not, it'd be over. Then you're sitting eight points back, and you're in a world of trouble. Being able to handle that, and not getting too excited about a win like today, that's the key to this time of the year."


GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 6 | +/-: +3

Wojtek Wolski and Darcy Tucker had goals for Colorado, which had been on a 12-0-3 run against the Carolina franchise. Its last loss had come in Feb. 1996, when the team was still the Hartford Whalers. The Avalanche fell to 1-1 on a six-game road trip and remained six points out of a Western Conference playoff berth.

"It was just a lot of little things that went wrong today," Wolski said. "We just couldn't get any momentum going."

Wolski opened the scoring 59 seconds into the game when his shot from the right-wing boards squeezed between Ward's pads. But Cullen connected from the side of the net off a LaRose feed at the seven-minute mark, and he gave the Hurricanes their first lead 1:19 into the second, earning his 400th NHL point in the process.

Tucker responded 53 seconds later to draw the Avalanche even, but Pitkanen got that goal back late in the period by following up a Tuomo Ruutu shot to beat Andrew Raycroft. Bayda connected 8:49 into the third and Cullen hit an empty net with 32 seconds left, giving him 19 goals this season.

Carolina had plenty of chances to turn the game into a rout, going 0-for-8 on the power play, but there wasn't much to complain about otherwise.

"We had eight power plays and we didn't get any goals, so that was disappointing," Pitkanen said. "But we got two points, so that's what's most important."

Lightning 4, Bruins 3 | Video

The big lead Boston built in the Eastern Conference earlier this season is coming in handy now that the Bruins have fallen on hard times.

Vaclav Prospal scored a power-play goal with 1:33 remaining Sunday as Tampa Bay won at the St. Pete Times Forum, preventing the Bruins from reclaiming the President's Trophy lead from San Jose and dropping them to 1-4-2 in their last seven.

Phil Kessel, Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara all scored for the Bruins, who with 88 points sit one behind the Sharks for the League's top point total. Their lead for first in the East was cut to seven over Washington, which beat Pittsburgh earlier Sunday.

"They didn't play like (a team near the bottom of the standings)," Boston coach Claude Julien said of Tampa Bay, 13th in the conference. "I think if all the cards were aligned, I don't think they be in the bottom of the League. You just have to look at the guys that they have up front. There's a lot of firepower there."

Karri Ramo made 40 saves for the Lightning, which got goals from Jeff Halpern, Adam Hall and Mark Recchi in entering the third period tied up. The game appeared headed for overtime before Prospal scored his 15th of the season past Manny Fernandez.

"We're all playing for something," Prospal said. "If a team like (Boston) coming into our building wouldn't be a challenge for us, then maybe we should get a new job.

"We're a lot of points out of a playoff spot. Right now, for us, it's just about playing hard every night and come out with an effort that will get us the win."

Kessel's 25th of the season opened the scoring 1:38 into the first, as he fired a shot over Ramo's right shoulder. The Lightning quickly responded on goals 15 seconds apart by Halpern and Hall. Halpern's one-timer at 4:44 tied things up and Hall made it 2-1, but Ference got the Bruins even on a power-play goal 3:18 before intermission.

Recchi struck at exactly the midway point of the second to put Tampa back in front, but Chara evened the score again with 4:43 left in the period.

"It's a tough team to play against and we played a hell of a game," Ramo said. "It's not always the team with the best players that wins. It's the team that refuses to lose. It was really good to end up a winner against a League-leading team."
"I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty. That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem." -- Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin
Bston returns home to play its next six games after completing a five-game road trip that was disappointing save for a rout of Carolina.

"The only thing tonight we're a little disappointed in is the type of penalties we took," Julien said. "It ended up costing us the game. But the compete level was definitely much better tonight."

Maple Leafs 3, Rangers 2 (OT) | Video

Niklas Hagman's power-play goal three minutes into overtime allowed Toronto to escape Madison Square Garden with the extra point and disappoint a capacity crowd that came to see former New York greats Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell have their numbers raised to the rafters prior to the game.

After Blair Betts was called for hooking 2:07 into the extra period, Pavel Kubina took a Hagman feed and wound up for a drive from above the left circle that Hagman got a stick on in front and deflected past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

''I took a few shots,'' Kubina said of the winning goal sequence. ''It doesn't matter. We got two points.''

Michal Rozsival, who gave up wearing Howell's former No. 3 during the pregame ceremony and switched to No. 33, forced overtime by beating Vesa Toskala with 39.1 seconds left in regulation after Lundqvist had been pulled for an extra attacker. However, the Blueshirts dropped to 2-7-3 in their last dozen games and are clinging to a playoff spot, just two points ahead of surging Carolina for ninth.

"We've got to start winning. I think that's the bottom line," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "I don't think we need to say too much more than that. Again, we did some good things tonight, but a couple mistakes and a couple penalties we can't take."

Lundqvist and Toskala combined to keep the game scoreless through two periods before the offenses came to life and the Leafs grabbed a 2-1 lead after 6:18 had elapsed in the third.

John Mitchell burned the Rangers for the opening goal at 3:54, giving him three goals in three games against New York and two in 52 games against the rest of the League. Scott Gomez tied it at 5:53 when he took Dubinsky's pass, broke in on Toskala and slid a shot past him into the net, but Ian White responded just 25 seconds later by beating Lundqvist, who made 23 saves.

Toskala turned aside 39 shots but didn't have an answer for Rozsival's drive just inside the right post. But the Leafs recovered in overtime to end their three-game losing streak. Kubina and Lee Stempniak each picked up his third assist of the night on Hagman's winning goal.

"We've been on the losing end of a lot of games where we've had leads," Toronto forward Dominic Moore said. "Getting that late goal by them could have been another one of those events, but we rallied back and got the power-play goal."

The teams complete a home-and-home Wednesday at Air Canada Centre, where the Rangers will try to break out of an offensive slump that has seen them score two goals or less in 10 of the last 12 games.

"We're all aware of the lack of goals we score," captain Chris Drury said. "It seems we talk about it, we work on things in practice. There's not much else to do but keep working hard, keep getting shots and hopefully some start to fall in for us."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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