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Erskine's late goal pushes Caps to win

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WASHINGTON (AP)

The reddish-brown Fu Manchu drooping past John Erskine's upper lip was supposed to make a one-month appearance to raise awareness for cancer research and prevention. The way the light-scoring Erskine has been contributing offensively, the mustache might stick around.

Erskine scored the tiebreaking goal with 6:49 remaining to help the Washington Capitals beat the Atlanta Thrashers 6-4 on Sunday for their sixth straight home victory.

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''The 'stache has been good luck this month. I talked to the wife and I might be keeping it for a while. ... It's got to be the 'stache, right?'' said Erskine, who two goals and two assists in seven November games.

Trailing a rush into the Thrashers' zone, Erskine used a slap shot from the left point to convert a drop pass from David Steckel, beating Ondrej Pavelec to cap a sloppy, goal-filled game. Erskine now has nine goals and 27 assists in 341 career games.

''I had a lane. I shot as hard as I could and we had guys going to the net to create some traffic,'' Erskine said. ''It was a roller coaster of a game. We had a letdown in the second and we came out hard in the third.''

Asked if he'd ever notched a winner before, Erskine said: ''I think I have, back in my younger days. I don't score too many goals.''

Erskine's offensive exploits aren't a surprise to Washington coach Bruce Boudreau. A rugged defenseman who engaged in a pronged fight with Atlanta's Eric Boulton in the second period, Erskine is better known for his pugilistic abilities.

''He's finding the mark,'' Boudreau said. ''He's a big strong guy and when he gets it all, he can score.''

Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Steckel had a goal and an assist each for the Capitals. Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks also scored for Washington, which couldn't protect a three-goal lead in the middle period. The Capitals are an NHL-best 9-1-0 at home.

''It's something we want to fix,'' Steckel said. ''Obviously, we haven't played a 60-minute game for the last couple of games. As far as putting teams away, you're not going to put a team away in the first period these days in the NHL. ... It kind of fell apart in the second.''

Bryan Little led Atlanta with two goals. Andrew Ladd had a goal and an assist, and Rich Peverley also scored for the Thrashers.

Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay thought his team might have been focusing too much on Washington's talented forwards.

''We lost their defensemen too many times today, and they're pretty good players back there,'' Ramsay said. ''You just can't do that.''

Both teams were spent, contributing to the uneven pace. The Capitals were playing their fifth game in eight days, while the Thrashers were playing their fourth in six and the second of back-to-back road games.

Pavelec allowed one goal on 16 shots after replacing Chris Mason in the second period.

Ovechkin scored just 1:30 into the game, blasting a slap shot from the left circle that trickled through Chris Mason. Green followed with a power-play goal with a second left on a slashing minor to Ben Eager, caroming a drive off defenseman Brent Sopel from the top of the right circle.

Peverley reached behind goalie Michal Neuvirth to whack in a loose puck on power play at 13:14 of the first, but Semin restored Washington's two-goal lead with 1:03 left, finishing off a 3-on-2 rush off a lead pass from Ovechkin for his team-leading 13th goal.

Ladd eluded defenseman John Carlson, banked a pass to himself off the left boards and scored from a tough angle 1:12 into the second, and Hendricks' goal at 2:23 chased Mason.

''We made it 3-2 and then coughed one right back up,'' said Ramsay. ''Whether it's (Mason's) fault or not at that point, ... it's time to make a change. It's time to do something to get the players a wake-up call.''

Atlanta again crept within a goal at 3:07 when Evander Kane's rebound squirted to Little, who scored from between the circles, and Little tied it at 4 on a short-handed breakaway at 9 minutes. Ladd's shot was blocked by Neuvirth, then tipped by Little as it flipped in the air and rolled in off the goalie's mask and down his back.

Steckel scored an empty-netter with 37 seconds left.

NOTES: Washington D Tyler Sloan had two assists, his first career multipoint game. ... Capitals defensemen have scored a goal in eight consecutive games. ... Washington D Tom Poti missed his second straight game. Poti returned Thursday after sitting out eight games because of a groin problem. RW Boyd Gordon (leg) also was scratched. ... The Capitals are 9-0-0 when Semin scores.

Tagged: Capitals, Jets, Chris Mason, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, John Erskine, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little

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