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Capitals cautiously optimistic following 7-1 thrashing of Maple Leafs

TORONTO - There's nothing like a 7-1 victory to turn a season around - at least, that's what the Washington Capitals are hoping.

"We've played like that for the past four or five games," said Capitals coach Glen Hanlon after his team dominated the Maple Leafs 7-1 in Toronto on Monday night. "But the pucks just weren't going in.

"The great thing about this group, though, is they never pout, they never get discouraged. The one thing they've learned to do in the past couple of years is to be resilient."

The Caps entered 2007-08 with high hopes, despite not playing in the post-season since 2003. With Alex Ovechkin entering his third NHL campaign, and a maturing roster bolstered by free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti, some felt the playoff drought in Washington would end in the spring.

The early returns were promising, as the Caps reeled off three straight wins to open the season. But Washington then lost six of its next seven, reverting back to the form that has seen the team miss the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.

"Against Vancouver, we had a couple of mistakes ... they score goals and we lose the game," said Ovechkin, referring to a 3-2 home loss to the Canucks on Friday. "Tonight, we played very good defensively and we didn't have any stupid mistakes and we win the game."

Washington went into the game against the Leafs on a two-game losing streak and missing several key players due to injury, including captain Chris Clark (ear), left winger Alexander Semin (ankle) and defencemen Poti (groin) and Steve Eminger (ankle).

Eminger hasn't played a game all season and remains out indefinitely, while the others are day to day.

"We were disappointed against Vancouver and St. Louis (a 4-3 loss on Saturday), but now when we go on the ice, we think about winning, not losing," Ovechkin said.

The Caps had scored more than three goals in a game just once this season - a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 24 - before firing four shots past Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala in less than 14 minutes of the first period last night. After scoring twice more in the second period and adding a seventh in the third, the Capitals established a season high in goals.

"Right now, we have to take the (approach) that we can't lose," Ovechkin said. "We lose two in a row, and we just had to win the game."

With the Capitals icing a depleted lineup, depth forwards Boyd Gordon, Matt Pettinger, Matt Bradley and Brian Sutherby and defenceman Jeff Schultz all stepped up with their first goals of the season.

"(Sutherby) did a terrific job tonight after not playing in a long time, and guys like Matt Bradley getting one and Boyd Gordon, Jeff Schultz ... the scoring has to come from everyone and that's what happened tonight," said Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig. "We just need to continue doing what we talked about after St. Louis and we'll be all right.

"After the St. Louis game, we talked about, 'Let's get back to playing the way we did at the start of the year.' And the guys responded tonight, they did a heck of a job."

Ovechkin might be checking the schedule for his next game against Toronto - with two goals Monday, he now has nine in nine career games against the Leafs.

Ovechkin won't get to victimize Toronto again until the teams meet in a home-and-home series Jan. 23-24.

"I like to play in this (Air Canada Centre) atmosphere," Ovechkin said. "Everybody stands if something happens, everybody screams ... I like to play in this atmosphere, you know."


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