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Ovi-less Capitals beat Wild 3-1

by Brian Hunter /

Four straight wins, the most points in the Eastern Conference and the possible return of Alex Ovechkin on Saturday.

Life isn't looking too bad for the Washington Capitals.

Low-scoring defenseman Brian Pothier became the Caps' latest hero Friday night when he broke a 1-1 tie two minutes into the third period of what ended up a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the VerizonCenter.

Mike Green, a blueliner the Caps are more accustomed to getting goals from, scored on a power play in the second and Brooks Laich hit the empty net in the final minute as Washington moved two points ahead of the idle New Jersey Devils, who they visit on Saturday, for first place in the East.

"If they're like me, I want to be No. 1 in everything," coach Bruce Boudreau said of taking the conference lead. "I've let them know where they stand. No matter what you're playing, you like to be on top, and right now we are. During the course of the season it goes peaks and valleys and other teams take it over, and you never know how it's going to end up, but it's always fun to be there at one point in the season."

Washington has gone 4-1-0 without Ovechkin, who is a possibility to take the PrudentialCenter ice to face New Jersey. One player the Caps will definitely be without, however, is gritty forward Mike Knuble, who broke a finger when Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky sent him crashing over goalie Josh Harding and into the net during a first-period power play. Knuble is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.

"I don't know yet," Boudreau said in addressing whether Knuble's injury could speed up Ovechkin's return from an upper-body strain. "I've got to talk to the powers that be."

Cal Clutterbuck's goal early in the second gave Minnesota the lead and Harding played a solid game with 38 saves. But that wasn't enough to prevent the Wild from losing on the road for a second straight night and falling to 2-9-1 away from the XcelEnergyCenter this season.

"It's not easy to get into a city at almost 4 o'clock in the morning and have to get up and play the next day," Clutterbuck said, "and play an extremely fast, skilled team that's coming off not playing the night before. I'm sure it had something to do with it. I'm pretty sure we gave it all we had. I don't think we held anything back. I think the guys in here are pretty exhausted."

Clutterbuck beat Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov on the rush with a drive from the top of the right circle at 1:31 of the second. Varlamov, who picked up a win in relief of Jose Theodore against the Islanders on Wednesday, prevailing in an 11-round shootout, stopped the other 29 shots he faced.

Green tied the score at 5:39 when he one-timed Tomas Fleischmann's feed past Harding. It was Green's third goal of the season but first since Ovechkin went out, making him the 11th Washington player to score in No. 8's absence.

Pothier, who actually had a three-point game against Florida one week earlier but came in with just 22 career goals in 317 NHL games, beat Harding with a wrist shot from the left circle for the decisive goal. Laich added the insurance with 37 seconds remaining.

Harding fell to 0-3-0 despite his best performance of the season. He had allowed 11 goals in his first two starts.

"Josh, I thought, was tremendous," Minnesota coach Todd Richards said. "And that's what you want from your goalie. It's nice to see him off of the previous two games that he played come in and play a game like this."

Material from wire services was used in this report

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