WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin broke out of his career-worst goal drought just as former coach Bruce Boudreau feared.
Ovechkin scored for the first time in 10 games as the Washington Capitals beat Boudreau’s Minnesota Wild 4-2 Tuesday night to snap a season-worst four-game losing streak.
Ovechkin’s 28th of the season was his first since Feb. 19 and also ended an 18-game drought without an even-strength goal.
Boudreau on Monday predicted that Ovechkin is “going to get out of it one day” and hoped it wasn’t at his new team’s expense.
He knew what was coming because Ovechkin scored 197 regular-season and 25 playoff goals — 37 percent of his NHL totals — with him behind the bench.
“You make a mistake against Alex, you’re going pay for it,” Boudreau said.
It was a flubbed shot that center Nicklas Backstrom called a “muffin,” but the Russian superstar’s 553rd goal helped end Washington’s worst skid since November 2015 and sent the Wild to their fifth loss in seven games.
“We’re in position where we were losing four in a row and I kind of don’t feel like you have to worry about your personal stats,” Ovechkin said. “It was not a perfect shot, but sometimes I have pretty good opportunities before and it didn’t go in. It’s (going to) turn around very quickly if I’m gonna to get that kind of goal.”
Nate Schmidt, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jay Beagle also scored for the NHL-leading Capitals, who recaptured sole possession of first in the Metropolitan Division and moved two points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Backstrom had three assists and goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced as Washington won for the first time since March 4.
But make no mistake that this was a captain-led performance as Ovechkin had a goal, an assist and drew two penalties.
“When the Big O is going, it’s really tough to stop him,” said Schmidt, who scored his second of the season and first since Jan. 5.
“It’s what you need (from) your captain, and that was a game that we needed in a big game against the best team in the West and he gave it to us.”
The Wild are no longer the best in the West after their loss coupled with the Chicago Blackhawks’ victory in Montreal dropped them into second place in the conference and the Central Division.
Goals by Matt Dumba and Eric Staal and 36 saves by league save percentage leader Devan Dubnyk weren’t enough to stop Minnesota’s slide.
“It seems like the mistakes we’re making right now are hitting the back of our net,” said Staal, who tied Mikael Granlund for the team lead with his 23rd goal of the season. “We’re fighting it.”
Dumba and Staal scoring in the first 5 minutes of the third period to cut the Capitals’ lead from three goals to one made things interesting. Boudreau said his players “finally got mad at each other” after being too passive for the first 40 minutes.
But Beagle scored his first goal in 16 games with 5:41 left, and the Capitals could take an important lesson out of being pressed by a talented team in a pressure situation.
“They had their push there,” Schmidt said. “I think that was a really big part of the game for our team to kind of pull together and just kind of catapult us moving forward.”
NOTES: There were 12 minor penalties called — seven on the Capitals and five on the Wild — leading to almost a third of the game being played on special teams. … Tom Wilson picked up an instigator penalty and 10-minute misconduct resulting from a fight with Ryan White. Holtby said after the game that Wilson didn’t deserve the instigator and also took issue with a tripping penalty on Karl Alzner. … Schmidt was only in the lineup because D Kevin Shattenkirk was serving the second of his two-game suspension. … Wild C Martin Hanzal missed the game with strep throat.
Wild: Wrap up their five-game road trip at the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
Capitals: Face their former prospect Filip Forsberg and the Nashville Predators at home Thursday.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno
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