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Ovechkin leads Capitals on Gartner Night

by Brian Hunter
Former Washington Capitals scoring great Mike Gartner said he loves watching current superstar Alex Ovechkin. In the hours after Gartner's jersey was raised to the Verizon Center rafters Sunday night, Ovechkin gave him and the rest of the crowd plenty of reasons to get out of their seats and cheer.

Ovechkin scored twice to reach 25 goals for the season and Brooks Laich added two of his own as the Capitals defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 and extended their Eastern Conference-best home record to 15-1-1 this season. Dating back to the end of last season, they have won 21 of 23 on home ice.

"If there's 18,000 people pushing you, you want to play good in front of them," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You see them at the rink every day, all saying how much it means to them. It's a reason to keep playing hard."

Attendance is up about 33 percent compared to this point last season, and the Capitals gave their faithful added incentive to come out Sunday with a pregame ceremony honoring Gartner. His No. 11 jersey was retired, an honor that figures to someday befit Ovechkin, the reigning NHL MVP who is now tied with Thomas Vanek of Buffalo for second in goals, one behind Jeff Carter of Philadelphia.

"I really do love watching him play," Gartner said. "He's someone that is so talented, works so hard at it and competes so hard and wants the puck so badly, it's fun to watch."

Ovechkin snapped a 1-1 tie with under 10 seconds left in the second period, taking a pass from defenseman Milan Jurcina near the blue line and let loose with a lightning-quick wrist shot that beat goalie Vesa Toskala.

Laich, who had earlier tied the game, made it 3-1 with 4:17 left in the third before Ovechkin provided the final margin of victory by scoring an empty-net goal with 34 seconds remaining. Washington opened up a 10-point lead over Carolina in the Southeast Division and jumped two points ahead of the New York Rangers for second place in the Eastern Conference.

"We're happy with where we're at right now, but we want to win more than just our division," said Laich, who now has 10 goals. "We have our eyes on Boston, they're a very good hockey team, and now I think we slide into second in the conference, and we have our eyes on number one."

Niklas Hagman had the lone goal in the first period to get the Maple Leafs off to a good start. Hagman's wrist shot through traffic eluded Jose Theodore, but Toronto went on to lose its third straight, a stretch in which the team has allowed 16 goals while scoring only four.

''We have to produce more goals,'' forward Nik Antropov said. ''I don't think we're going to the net as hard as we can.''

Laich made it 1-1 with 7:06 to play in the second. Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green assisted on the goal and each earned his second helper of the night on Ovechkin's empty-netter. Backstrom has a team-leading 30 assists on the season. Green, along with fellow defenseman Jeff Schultz, returned after missing time due to injury.

"I'm back to 100 percent, so it's nice to be out there and not have any restraints on myself," said Green, who has battled a shoulder problem.

Bruins 2, Thrashers 1 | VIDEO

Better make room at the top, San Jose … you've got a little company.

Michael Ryder had the go-ahead goal in the third period for the second time in as many nights, as the Bruins won their eighth in a row and tied the Sharks for the NHL lead with 58 points. Boston (27-5-4) has played one more game than San Jose (27-4-4).

Phil Kessel also scored and Manny Fernandez made 32 saves for the undisputed best team in the Eastern Conference, which is on its longest winning streak since the end of the 1992-93 season.

"Manny bailed us out on a couple of breakaways," Boston defenseman Aaron Ward said. "We have to understand that we're no longer under the radar. We're not going to sneak up on anybody."

Bryan Little's goal with 15 seconds remaining in the first period gave Atlanta the lead in front of its home fans at Philips Arena, but Fernandez stopped everything after that. Kari Lehtonen finished with 27 saves for the Thrashers.

Ryder put the Bruins ahead with 6:04 left by converting a perfect lead pass by David Krejci for his 14th of the season. The goal came 10 seconds later than his winning goal Friday night in Carolina, when he snapped a 2-2 tie in what ended up a 4-2 Boston victory.

"I was just trying to chip it up over the goalie," Ryder said about his winner against Atlanta. "We're getting pretty good and creating a lot of offense. We're doing what we do best and not trying to be too handsome."

The Thrashers let a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:37 slip away late in the first but still came out of the period ahead when Little scored unassisted for his 18th of the season.

Kessel responded with his 22nd to tie it early in the second. Marc Savard sent the puck to Kessel and he surprised Lehtonen with a wrist shot high in the slot that beat the goalie on his stick side.

"They worked hard out there," Kessel said of the Thrashers. Still, that was of little consolation to the team with the fewest points in the Southeast Division and second-fewest in the East.

"It's frustrating," Little said. "We worked so hard all game and they score in the last few minutes."

Ducks 4, Blues 3 | VIDEO

Bobby Ryan made sure Anaheim enjoyed a satisfying end to what was becoming a frustrating road trip.

Ryan's power-play goal with 7:11 left in regulation put an end to the Ducks' three-game losing streak. Steve Montador had scored earlier in the period to wipe out a 3-2 deficit, just 37 seconds after Brad Boyes gave St. Louis its first lead of the night to delight the home fans at Scottrade Center.

Scott Niedermayer had a goal and an assist, Rob Niedermayer also tallied and Jonas Hiller finished with 27 saves as the Ducks completed a five-game trip that began with a shootout win over Edmonton but stalled after three straight 4-3 defeats entering Sunday.

''Tonight, we found a way to win one and that's a good sign,'' Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

David Perron and Keith Tkachuk scored to wipe out one-goal deficits for the Blues before Boyes' 17th of the season put them ahead 6:41 into the third. Rookie Patrik Berglund earned his second assist of the game on the power-play tally.

Montador quickly drew the Ducks even, beating Chris Mason on a slap shot from the blue line. Ryan then struck with Anaheim on the man advantage, taking Scott Niedermayer's feed and backhanding a shot off the near post.

''They told me where to be and pucks were going to find me in there with Scotty walking off the half wall so I was just patient,'' Ryan said. ''Sure enough, it came and I was able to poke it into an empty net. I think (Mason) probably lost it in the scrum there.''

Hiller preserved the lead with a kick save on David Backes in the waning seconds.

''Rebound on my tape, (the puck) just kind of on its side and (Hiller) gets the pad on it,'' Backes said. ''I don't get it up and the game ends in the wrong direction.''

Rob Niedermayer opened the scoring 1:41 into the first, converting a Samuel Pahlsson rebound. Perron's unassisted goal at 5:01 made it 1-1 at the end of the period.

The two sides traded power-play goals in the second, as Scott Niedermayer restored the Ducks' lead at 4:16 by taking a Ryan Getzlaf feed from the left circle and beating Mason. Tkachuk redirected Berglund's shot from the top of the right circle with 3:38 left.

Oilers 5, Predators 2 | VIDEO

The playoff picture in the Western Conference has been changing daily. Right now, it's looking a lot rosier for Edmonton than Nashville.

Erik Cole had the go-ahead goal along with a pair of assists and Dwayne Roloson made 28 saves as the Oilers won their third straight Sunday night at Rexall Place. They beat the Predators for the first time in 10 tries, handing Nashville its fifth straight loss on the road.

"As long as the opportunities are there you are doing the right things to give yourself a chance to be successful," Cole said. "Even when you are not scoring you can give a lift to the team. But it feels good to contribute the way I did tonight and finish a couple of those opportunities off."

Edmonton, which also received goals from Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner, pulled into a three-way tie for eighth in the West with Nashville and Colorado.

Martin Erat and Shea Weber had first-period goals for the Predators, but goalie Dan Ellis was lifted after stopping only 13 of 17 shots.

"As long as the opportunities are there you are doing the right things to give yourself a chance to be successful.  Even when you are not scoring you can give a lift to the team. But it feels good to contribute the way I did tonight and finish a couple of those opportunities off." -- Erik Cole

"We didn't get quite as many pucks on goal that we would have liked to," Ellis said. "Pucks were bouncing all over the place. They were able to get a couple of fluky bounces, which gave them the momentum and we couldn't get it back."

Cole scored 10:50 into the second to give the Oilers a 3-2 lead and trigger a three-goal burst over a 2:16 span. Cogliano chased Ellis 40 seconds later when he attempted to pass from behind the net and the puck got caught up in the goalie's equipment before trickling in. Pekka Rinne relieved and gave up Gagner's score.

Erat and Weber sandwiched their goals around a Souray power-play score and a Horcoff tally in the first for Edmonton.
"There were a lot of things about tonight that were the things we anticipated seeing at the beginning of the year," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "There was lots of skill, lots of puck movement. We only got the one goal on the power play, but we were very effective on it. It was one of our better efforts of the year.

"That's the type of game that we thought we would see more of. It's taken a considerable amount of time but we are starting to move in a positive direction in terms of the way we are playing."

Canucks 3, Senators 0 | VIDEO

Curtis Sanford stopped all 18 shots he faced to lead Vancouver to a victory at GM Place and send Ottawa to its 12th straight road loss.

Henrik Sedin's first-period goal was all the offense Sanford would need in notching his fifth career shutout and first since the 2005-06 season when he played for St. Louis. Pavol Demitra and Alexander Edler scored in the second to extend the lead.
''I can't say enough about how the guys played tonight,'' Sanford said. ''We played with discipline and we played with structure. We played with a lot of speed.

''We knew we had to do that because they were playing their second game in two nights, so we had to come out with speed, get the pucks deep on them and make them play in their own end. We haven't been doing that lately but we did tonight.''
The Canucks, who are anticipating the arrival of Mats Sundin in Vancouver on Monday, snapped a two-game losing streak and pulled to within a point of Calgary for first place in the Northwest Division. Sundin is expected to practice with the team for the first time on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Canucks managed more than enough offense to handle the struggling Senators. They opened the scoring at 8:17 after Demitra picked off a poor clearing attempt by Nick Foligno and fed a wide-open Sedin for a shot that beat Martin Gerber.

Demitra got behind the Ottawa defense and scored his 11th at 10:16 of the middle period, firing a snap shot past Gerber from 20 feet out. Daniel Sedin set up Demitra with a brilliant lead pass. Edler capped the scoring with 2:50 left in the second, going end-to-end and finishing with a slap shot from just inside the blue line that beat the goalie stick side.

Ironically, the last shutout Sanford had came against the Canucks on Jan. 23, 2006. Now he's holding down the fort in the absence of Roberto Luongo, and doing a bang-up job according to his teammates.
''He has been playing well for us ever since Lou went down,'' said Alex Burrows, who dropped down to block a point shot with just five seconds left in the game.

''He works so hard in practice and he's such a nice guy, everyone likes him in the locker room, so we wanted to get the shutout for him. We'll do anything as a team to get him the shutout, and more importantly, get him the win.''
The Senators played the third of eight consecutive road games while the World Junior Championships take place in Ottawa. They are 3-11-2 away from Scotiabank Place this season, their last win coming in Florida on Oct. 30.

''There is obviously a lot of frustration in our dressing room,'' captain Daniel Alfredsson said. ''We are just trying to give ourselves a chance every night but we don't seem to be able to play for a full 60 minutes. We have to keep working and try to find a way.''

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

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