WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 28th goal, and the Washington Capitals enjoyed a rare feeling of dominance outside their division Tuesday night, winning their eighth straight with a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jack Hillen, Martin Erat, Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson also scored, and Braden Holtby made 29 saves for the Southeast Division-leading Capitals.
The Capitals have moved into playoff position by feasting on the weak Southeast, going 14-3 within the division, but they entered Tuesday’s game just 9-14-2 against the rest of the Eastern Conference. All but two of those nine wins were by one goal.
So it was a major morale boost that they were able to manhandle Toronto, which is closing in on the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2004.
The Maple Leafs had won four of five, but they looked sluggish one night after they beat the New Jersey Devils 2-0 at home on Monday. Toronto was down 4-0 to the Capitals before Mikhail Grabovski scored in the third period.
Ovechkin, with his 19th goal in 18 games, moved two ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in the NHL’s goal-scoring race.
The Capitals drew their usual close-to-full house, with fans seemingly undeterred by the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Security was increased at the Verizon Center, although mostly behind-the-scenes and so subtly that many noticed little or no difference as they endured the usual bags searches and screenings by hand-held metal detectors.
Arena workers said there were extra security patrols, specifically checking trash cans and security cameras before the building was open to the public. The huge scoreboard went dark shortly before the opening faceoff for a moment of silence.
Ovechkin’s goal was a one-timer from the top of the left circle during a second-period power play. He earned an assist from nearly the same spot earlier in the period when his shot was deflected by Erat in front of the crease.
It was Erat’s first goal since he was acquired in a trade-deadline deal with the Nashville Predators.
Hillen scored in the first period with a shot from the point deflected by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, giving goalie Ben Scrivens no chance to react as the puck whizzed past just inside the post.
An odd-man rush led to Brouwer’s goal in the second period, with the forward streaking down the right side to receive a pass from John Carlson to make it 3-0.
Johansson scored on a power play in the third period.
NOTES: Toronto’s Jay McClement rammed Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom head-first into the boards in the first period, prompting retaliation from Ovechkin and a massive scrum. Ovechkin was the only player penalized — for boarding — but Capitals F Jason Chimera picked a fight with McClement later in the period. … Maple Leafs LW Joffrey Lupul returned after missing five games with a concussion.
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