ST. LOUIS – Alex Ovechkin took his place in the NHL record book and helped the Washington Capitals keep pace in the playoff race.
Ovechkin became the 11th player in NHL history to score 50 more goals in a season five times and added two assists as the Capitals beat the slumping St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Tuesday night. The two points gave the Capitals 85, four behind Columbus for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Both the Blue Jackets and Capitals have three games left.
“We talked this morning about all we can do is control our situation,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “Try and focus on tonight, get a win and see what happens tomorrow.”
The Blues clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference a while ago, but their hopes of a President’s Trophy are fading.
Maxim Lapierre had the only goal for St. Louis, which has lost a season-high three straight. The Blues have been outscored 12-3 during the losing streak. St. Louis has scored two or fewer goals in nine of its last 11 games.
“I thought the first period we were really good,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “When we got down 3-1, we just seemed to lose our energy.”
Hitchcock said the Blues’ scoring problems are more than just the top lines not delivering.
“I think it’s across the board,” Hitchcock said. “When you’re not scoring, you need to shoot, but it’s more the execution after we got down.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and Mikhail Grabovski added another goal for the Capitals. Braden Holtby made 28 saves after he started over Jaroslav Halak, who played 40 games and recorded 24 wins for the Blues this season. Holtby also beat the Blues 4-1 on Nov. 17.
“We got fortunate in some places, a broken stick on a wide-open shot and a few others where they just missed, but I think that was a credit to us pressuring them on those scoring chances,” Holtby said. “It’s a game of those little things and tonight we did that.”
Holtby said the Capitals have done what they had to do the last few games.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying calm and just playing our game the last couple,” Holtby said. “It’s hard, it’s a tough thing, but we can only control what we can control now.”
Ovechkin, who added an assist, beat Ryan Miller with a one-timer from the left circle at 17:54 of the first period for his 50th goal overall and 23rd on the power play, both league highs.
It is Ovechkin’s first 50-goal campaign since 2009-10 when he scored 50. His single-season high is 65 in the 2007-08 season.
“It means a lot,” Ovechkin said. “That’s a big number, and it’s going to be there my whole life.”
After Lapierre tied the game at 2:39 of the second period, Grabovski gave the Capitals the lead for good when he beat Miller with a slap shot from the left circle at 8:52 of the period.
Ovechkin then gave Washington some insurance when he broke in down the right wing and fed Backstrom in the slot. Backstrom put it past Miller with 1:10 left in the second period to make it 3-1.
“It was a great feed again,” Backstrom said. “That was a seam pass there and that defenceman gave me a little room, so you have to take advantage of that.”
Washington began the third period on a power play and Backstrom put the game out of reach when he scored 16 seconds into the period.
NOTES: Ovechkin is tied with Pavel Bure, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman with five seasons of 50 or more goals. Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky accomplished that nine times, and Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux had six such seasons. … Alexander Steen returned to the Blues’ lineup after missing the last three games. … Tuesday marked the first time the Capitals have been in St. Louis since Dec. 1, 2010, when they also beat the Blues 4-1.