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Streak at 13 as Capitals turn back Thrashers

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- Scary on offense and stout in goal, the Washington Capitals just keep on rolling.

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin each had a goal and an assist and rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth made 43 saves as the Capitals beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2 at Verizon Center on Friday and pushed their franchise-record win streak to 13 games.

"You don't realize how hard it is to win -- it is difficult to stay at a pace when every team you're playing is coming at you in waves because they're the ones who want to end it," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time."

Washington's run of prosperity matches New Jersey's 13-game stretch during the 2000-01 season and no team has won more since Pittsburgh prevailed in 17 straight during the 1992-93 campaign. The Capitals will go for win No. 14 on Sunday, weather permitting, against the Penguins here at Verizon Center.

Neuvirth, who was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League earlier in the day, turned aside all 22 shots during a frantic second-period surge by the Thrashers, and eventually the Capitals' offense took over.

The rookie goaltender is 4-0-0 since being pulled in back-to-back starts last month and has stopped 157 of the past 163 shots -- a .963 save percentage.

"I was in Hershey all week, so that wasn't an easy game for me. It is a different level," Neuvirth said. "I was not that sharp in the first, but I think I was getting better every minute and I think I had a good game."

A pair of Atlanta turnovers led to odd-man rushes for Washington and helped the Capitals put the game away early in the third period. Brooks Laich waited out the defender on a 2-on-1 and fed Semin with a perfect pass to put Washington ahead 3-1 at the 3:52 mark.

Moments later Jason Chimera led a 3-on-1 break and fired a slap shot from the left circle past Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec 68 seconds after Semin's tally to widen the lead to three. It was Chimera's 12th of the season and fourth since joining the team in a trade from Columbus.

"It is nice -- we can score at any given time," Chimera said. "That's a fun thing to have. When you have that and you're in a locker room where you always know you can come back and if you're down you're certainly not out, I think that is the best thing." 

Atlanta's Rich Peverley was credited with a fluky shorthanded goal at 13:15 of the third. He picked off a pass from Semin and was off on a breakaway. Neuvirth turned aside his attempt, but Semin crashed feet-first into his goaltender and knocked the puck into the net.

Mike Green scored an empty-netter with 1:27 left to put it away for Washington.

Defenseman Tobias Enstrom put Atlanta on the board first 2:46 into the opening period. Neuvirth got his shoulder on a Rich Peverley shot from near the goal line, but Enstrom swept home the rebound for his fifth of the season.

"You just can't turn the puck over against these guys," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "They're a juggernaut, that's for sure. They are where they are in the standings for a reason."

Ovechkin tied the score at one with a blast from the right point at 13:41. His stick broke with the Capitals on the power play, so he went to the bench for a new one and crossed the blue line just in time to fire a one-timer past Pavelec.

It was Ovechkin's league-leading 39th marker of the season and 12th during the winning streak.

Backstrom gave Washington the lead with the lone goal of the middle period. He collected a pass from Ovechkin in the slot and then snapped a wrist shot into the top right corner at 4:31 for his 25th of the season.

"[Neuvirth] played unbelievable today," said Ovechkin, who also leads the NHL in points (82) and plus-minus (plus-38). "He kept us in the game and it is good that we used our chances."

NOTES: Backstrom did not play in the third period because of what Boudreau called "flu-like symptoms," but he expects his top center to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. … Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Anderson did not want to provide a further update until the team's physician can evaluate him.

Boudreau said before the game that netminder Semyon Varlamov could start Saturday for Hershey. Varlamov, who is still scheduled to suit up for Russia in the Winter Olympics, hasn't played for the Capitals since Dec. 7 because of groin and knee injuries and appeared only once in that span for the Bears.

The Capitals sent goalie Braden Holtby to Hershey to make room for Neuvirth. Holtby, a fourth-round pick in 2008, is 16-2-1 for the Bears this season, but has yet to make his NHL debut.

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