MONTREAL – The goals keep going in for Alex Ovechkin—and the Washington Capitals keep winning games.
Ovechkin scored twice to reach the 30-goal mark for the season as the Capitals downed the sagging Montreal Canadiens 5-1 on Saturday night. It was Washington’s 13th win in their last 16 games.
Alexander the Great stretched his lead to three goals over Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in his race for a third Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer. He has 20 goals in his last 18 games.
“It’s good, I’m pretty happy I scored some goals and we won the game,” said Ovechkin. “But we still have three games left to play and the next one is the biggest game of the year.”
The Capitals (25-18-2) will be at home to face the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night with both teams battling for first place in the Southeast Division. Washington has a three-point lead and each team has three games remaining in the regular season.
“Now we have some time to relax and refresh our bodies and our minds and be ready for the next one,” Ovechkin added.
Troy Brouwer also scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had the other as the Capitals took the early lead and were never in danger against the listless Canadiens (27-13-5).
Max Pacioretty spoiled Braden Holtby’s shutout bid with a goal with 5:09 left in regulation time for the home side, which heard some booing from the Bell Centre crowd in its final home game of the regular season.
Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said the team was “soft” and that it will have to get back on track if it hopes to go far in the playoffs. The Canadiens have conceded 25 goals while losing four of their last five games since clinching a playoff spot.
“We have to do that especially this week,” said Gorges. “I’ve been through enough (to know) you can’t just show up in Game One of the playoffs and think ‘now I’m going to start playing, now our team’s going to click.’
“That doesn’t work. We have to make sure we’re prepared this week and have the effort. If we get scored on, so what? We have to bounce back and have that championship mentality.”
Giving up early goals has been their bane of late and it happened again as the Capitals scored on two of their first three shots and four of their first 11 on Carey Price.
A careless pass by P.K. Subban went to Backstrom, who fed Ovechkin to fake a pass and beat Price with a low wrist shot at 4:49.
Mike Ribeiro, who had three assists, won a faceoff in the Montreal zone and Brouwer’s long shot sailed past a screened Price only 1:08 later.
That put Montreal into a hole from which it could not escape.
“For most of the year in the first periods we were the stars of the game,”said centre Tomas Plekanec. “Most of the time we were up, but now we’re chasing the score after the first few minutes and then we’re not playing the right way.”
Coach Michel Therrien said it will likely be good for the Canadiens to get out of town to sort out its troubles. They end the season with road games in New Jersey, Winnipeg and Toronto.
“We’ve got to focus on our defensive game,” said Therrien. “We have a week to go, three games, and I’m convinced we’ll be ready for the playoffs.”
Brouwer, who has six goals in his last five games, got his second of the night on the Capitals’ first shot of the second frame. Ribeiro won a battle in a corner and Marcus Johansson fed it to the right circle for Brouwer’s high shot that beat Price cleanly at 3:49.
Washington needed only 18 seconds on its first power play to score on a tic-tac-toe play from Mike Green at the point to Ovechkin in the left circle to Backstrom at the side of the crease at 7:50.
Ovechkin was parked in the left circle for a one-timer through Price’s pads on Washington’s second power play at 13:23 of the third.
Pacioretty scored on a feed from behind the net from Plekanec.
Ovechkin has been getting the attention, but Brouwer has quietly piled up 19 goals this season, only three short of a career high.
“I’m not looking for personal recognition,” he said. “I just want to get in the playoffs.
“Ovi’s the guy who gets all the attention. Everyone else is kind of in the shadow, which is fine by me. But I’m having a good year. I feel like I’m getting myself into good shooting positions.”
He had a chance for a hat-trick in the final minute, but Price blocked his low shot from the slot.
“I actually looked over at Ovi first and Gorges took the pass away, so I ended up shooting,” said Brouwer. “But yeah, that definitely crossed my mind.
“I didn’t get a great shot off because I was off balance looking for (Ovechkin), but I was still trying to get that third one.”
It was another rough outing for Price. But while many in the crowd took to mockingly cheered routine saves, he avoided being pulled for a third time in four starts.
After the game, players had to stay out on the ice to greet some fans.
“To go out there at the end and have to meet people that are great fans who support us very night and to have to shake their hands after a disappointing performance like that—they don’t deserve that,” said Gorges.
Notes: Raphael Diaz returned after missing 25 games with a concussion and it was newcomer Davis Drewiske who sat out as Yannick Weber played a third game in a row. . . Brandon Prust was awarded the Jacques-Beauchamp Trophy as Montreal’s unsung hero as voted by the local media. He returned after resting a bad shoulder for a game.