WASHINGTON -- Fighting to keep pace in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff race, the Washington Capitals knew it was imperative they win their final two games before the NHL's break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Capitals accomplished half of their objective Thursday at Verizon Center, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period of a 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets.
"Obviously we need to keep up," said goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 34 saves in an unexpected start after Michal Neuvirth fell ill. "We've put ourselves in a position where each game keeps getting bigger and bigger. How we're going to be successful is if we dumb it down and we just focus on the little things that we need to do to win games like [Thursday], with the crashing the net, getting those dirty goals. That's what we have to do consistently in order to win games."
Washington hosts the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
Alex Ovechkin's NHL-leading 40th goal stood up as the game-winner and Troy Brouwer scored twice for Washington (26-23-9), which defeated its former Southeast Division opponent for the sixth straight time dating to last season.
Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien scored for Winnipeg (28-26-5), which lost for the third time in 12 games under coach Paul Maurice since he replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12 (9-3-0).
"We'll leave this game entirely here," Maurice said. "We're not bringing any of it on the plane. We will look at the things structurally that are part of every game, not just specific to the Washington game, and keep trying to get better."
With 12:14 remaining, Ovechkin swooped in after Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopped Nicklas Backstrom's two shots from in tight, pouncing on a loose puck and backhanding it into the net.
Ovechkin has six 40-goal seasons but this is his first since 2009-10, when he finished with 50.
"It's [a] good number," Ovechkin said of reaching 40. "I'm pretty sure it's not my last goal, so I don't want to stop. I just want to keep going."
The Capitals, shut out in two of their previous three games at home, wasted little time making sure that was not the case again when Brouwer scored at 4:56 of the first period.
Casey Wellman and Marcus Johansson worked below the goal line with Johansson getting the better of Olli Jokinen in a battle along the end boards. Wellman corralled the loose puck and fed it back to Johansson, who passed across the crease to Brouwer for his 12th goal of the season.
Winnipeg tied the game at 13:02 as the result of a strong forecheck by Michael Frolik and Andrew Ladd. Frolik pressured Capitals defenseman John Carlson as the latter went to retrieve the puck, forcing a turnover Ladd collected. The Jets captain threw the puck toward the middle of the ice to a streaking Little, whose shot was stopped by Holtby. But the rebound ricocheted off Capitals forward Martin Erat and into the net.
The Jets carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Capitals 16-7, and Byfuglien gave them the lead at 5:41.
As Winnipeg rushed up ice, Jokinen carried the puck into the Washington zone and left a drop pass for Devin Setoguchi. Byfuglien, cutting down the center of the ice undetected, received Setoguchi's pass in the high slot, skated to the hash marks and roofed his 13th goal of the season over Holtby's glove.
Winnipeg's strong play left Washington frustrated during the intermission.
"We came in here after the second period, we were extremely unhappy with the way we were playing," Brouwer said. "The way we were giving up chances, our execution, it was just poor all around."
In the third period, the determined Capitals tied the game on a play from a combination of unlikely sources. Defenseman Julien Brouillette, making his NHL debut, purposely passed wide of the net, and the puck caromed back to the middle, where Tom Wilson was waiting to beat Pavelec at 3:38. It was Wilson's second goal of the season. Defenseman Patrick Wey, who had the secondary assist, also earned his first NHL point.
"The play [Brouillette] made, banking it off the boards perfectly like that, that was a great play," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Obviously it worked. The bounce was right, it popped in the right spot. [Forward Brooks Laich] went to the net, took everybody, and put [Wilson] in the right spot and got rewarded. It was a great play. It gave us a lot of life."
After Ovechkin scored to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead, Brouwer scored an insurance goal at 15:15, driving hard to the net on a pass from Johansson and deking around Pavelec for another backhand goal.
"We started winning battles," Brouwer said. "We were holding the puck a little bit more, creating some more opportunities. Good defensive play, which led to some rushes offensively. On [Ovechkin's] goal, good play by [defenseman Karl Alzner], [Backstrom] going to the net hard. Those are things that we need to score goals."
The Jets also have one game remaining before the League breaks for the Sochi Games; Winnipeg will visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.