- Games between the Washington Capitals
and the Atlanta Thrashers
are often affairs in which each team's Russian star tries to outdo the other. But with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk sidelined with a broken right foot, Alex Ovechkin
had the stage all to himself Thursday night -- and took advantage of the opportunity.
Ovechkin scored his League-leading 12th and 13th goals to give the Caps an early three-goal lead that enabled them to survive a third-period rally by the Thrashers and leave Philips Arena with a 4-3 victory.
Ovechkin scored twice in the first period and set up Brendon Morrison's power-play goal 4:10 into the second as the Capitals raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes. Rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov made the lead stand up with 38 saves, 17 in the final period.
Atlanta scored three times in the third period, including one by from Zach Bogosian at 19:59 -- meaning that the margin of victory in Washington's sixth consecutive win was Mike Knuble's empty-net goal with 52.1 seconds left in regulation.
Ovechkin now has 13 goals in 12 games for the Caps, who lead the Southeast Division with an 8-2-2 record. It was his sixth two-goal game of the season and second in three nights.
"Well, I just do my thing," he said of his hot scoring pace . "I just try to score goals and help the team to win. Right now we're winning, so it doesn't matter how we win, but it's two points. Of course, in the future we don't have to play like that, especially in the third period, especially when we go on the road."
The defending Southeast Division champions are putting some distance between themselves and their competition. A week ago, they visited Atlanta with first place in the division at stake. After Thursday's win, they have 18 points -- seven ahead of second-place TampaBay and nine ahead of Atlanta.
The Thrashers lost their fourth in a row and played their first game without Kovalchuk, who was injured on Saturday after taking a shot off the foot from San Jose's Devin Setoguchi. Kovalchuk had 9 goals in nine games before getting hurt.
Ovechkin noticed what the absence of his rival did to Atlanta.
"He's a big part of the team," Ovechkin said. "He's a goal-scorer and a leader on the team. So of course, they miss him, but it is what it is."
Ovechkin was held without a point in last week's 5-4 victory over the Thrashers here and then without a goal in his next game against the New York Islanders. But he scored twice on Tuesday against Philadelphia and two again on Thursday. He also ended a five-game goal drought against the Thrashers and now has 25 career goals against the Thrashers -- the most he's scored against any team.
Varlamov, now 5-0-0 in regular-season games in his young NHL career, stopped Jim Slater's first-period penalty shot, then robbed Slava Kozlov from point-blank range and Tobias Enstrom on a shorthanded breakaway during Atlanta's 20-shot barrage in the third period.
"He saved the game," Ovechkin said of his fellow Russian. "I can say right now we have two great goalies [along with Jose Theodore], and it doesn't matter who is going to stay in. We feel we have a wall in there. That three goals -- the way they scored -- it was our mistake."
The night -- or at least the first two periods, belonged to Ovi.
He put the Capitals ahead 10:03 into the game by one-timing Mike Green's cross-ice feed behind Ondrej Pavelec from the top of the left circle for a power-play goal, then made it 2-0 at 14:56 by beating Pavelec on a breakaway after a perfect pass from Nicklas Backstrom sent him in alone.
"We're kind of choppy and sloppy and a couple of big turnovers or breakdowns and you look at their lineup, they make you pay," Thrashers right wing Colby Armstrong said. "They made Philadelphia pay the other night. We know what they do; we play them enough times."
Morrison made it 3-0 when he took a pass through the slot from Ovechkin and fired a sharp-angled wrist shot off the catching glove of Pavelec that deflected into the net.
The Thrashers started buzzing late in the second period and came out firing in the third. Bogosian's power-play goal, a straightaway blast at 1:23, got them back in the game. Varlamov was under siege for much of the period, but kept the Thrashers from getting any closer until Todd White's breakaway goal on a wrist shot with 2:23 remaining.
"That's great, but we lost," Armstrong said of the comeback. "It's not enough. It's not good enough. It's a big game for us. Coming out and giving up a three-goal lead right off the bat like that -- it's tough to come back on these guys. We gotta pull our heads out of our you-know-what."
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't happy with the way his team let the Thrashers back into the game.
"Way too casual, and that's what happens when you let up," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team's play in the final period. "The great ones -- every chance they get to score, they put it through the net . You see Ovie -- he never lets up when he's got a chance. We had opportunities and it's just like 'lah-dee-da' and instead of going up 4-0 or 5-0 and letting them go home with their tails between their legs, we got a battle on our hands."
They may not be impressing their coach with style points, but they are certainly on a roll. As is their two-time Hart Trophy winner.
"Of course, we know we win six in a row," Ovechkin said. "I think for us it's good mentally. We have to keep going. I think the team look pretty good. When we get so much lead we stop playing our way. It can't be like that again."
-- John Manasso, NHL.com Correspondent