Capitals 3, Wild 0

Alex Ovechkin was everywhere. He scored a goal. He had an

assist. He played on two lines and was on the ice for nearly half

the game. And, when the Minnesota Wild had a short-handed break, he

hustled back and slid to break up Mikko Koivu’s shot on the 2-on-1

break.

”It was a great slide. Like he was playing `D’ all his life,”

Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said.

Ovechkin is Alexander the Great once again, and his resurgence

couldn’t be more timely for the Capitals, who beat the Wild 3-0 on

Sunday to pull back into the final Eastern Conference playoff

spot.

”I think today, I think (it was) probably like two years ago,”

Ovechkin said. ”I have kind of trust in how I play. … I feel

pretty good. I feel sharp when I wasn’t in the game. I was fresh

and, you know, it’s good for me.”

For much of the last two seasons, the open question has been

whether Ovechkin would ever return to the form that earned him two

league MVP awards and made him the biggest goal-scoring threat in

the NHL.

But now he has nine goals in seven games, and the Capitals are

tied again on points with the Buffalo Sabres for eighth in the

East, with Washington holding the tiebreaker. The two teams meet in

the nation’s capital on Tuesday night with just six games to go in

the regular season.

”It’s going to be the biggest game of the year, for sure,”

said Mathieu Perrault, who scored the Capitals’ second goal, ”and

we’re going to be ready for it.”

Jason Chimera also scored for the Capitals, and recent call-up

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for his third career shutout and first

of the season.

Holtby, sharing time with Michal Neuvirth while Tomas Vokoun

recovers from a groin injury, gave a performance that normally

would make him the center of attention, but not on a day when

Hunter decided to dress only 11 forwards and therefore give the

attack a double-dose of Ovechkin.

”It’s hard to match up against,” Hunter said. ”Ovi’s out

there so much, you can’t match one line against him.”

Ovechkin played 26 minutes, 19 seconds, his second highest total

of the season. The most important sequence came during the

Capitals’ second-period power play, when he broke up the breakaway

and then got the secondary assist on Perrault’s goal that made the

score 2-0.

Holtby had a close-up view as Ovechkin made up ground on

Koivu.

”That’s a huge play for our team,” Holtby said. ”It’s

definitely a play you really don’t expect out of Alex because he’s

an offensive threat, so to see him battling in the D-zone is

huge.”

A blast from the left circle in the third period was the

Capitals’ third goal of the game and Ovechkin’s 36th of the season.

He recently passed his career-low of 32 goals from last season, but

his 61 points are still well below last season’s low-water mark of

85.

Matt Hackett, another goaltender not long promoted from the

minors, made 20 saves for the Wild. He was playing because Niklas

Backstrom didn’t make the trip due to a lower-body injury, and

because Josh Harding played Saturday in a 3-1 loss at Buffalo.

The Wild were shut out for the eighth time this season and were

without their latest injury casualty, center Matt Cullen, sidelined

after breaking his right index finger Saturday night in a loss at

Buffalo.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said it’s not time yet to start

focusing on next year.

”There’s no doubt that we’re not quite there,” Yeo said. ”I

think we all know that. But I like a lot of the things that we

have. If you want to look at guys we have in the lineup right now,

we have a lot of guys that can win, not only to get to the

playoffs, but the type of guys you want in your lineup when you do

play in the playoffs.”

Notes: Capitals RW Joel Ward missed his second consecutive game

with a lower-body injury. Washington C Nicklas Backstrom, sidelined

since early January with a concussion, has resumed practicing with

the team and could return this season. … Minnesota D Jared

Spurgeon missed his second game since sustaining a concussion

Thursday in a win over Calgary, and LW Matt Kassian sat out his

third straight with a groin injury.

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP