Capitals defenseman Mike Green looked bewildered. His team had won Saturday night over Tampa Bay and yet the winning locker room felt far from victorious after Green's team needed his overtime score to rescue a game it twice led by four goals.
Consider that a lesson learned. Washington again built a four-goal cushion Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This time it had no trouble holding what it had built. Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat and Alex Ovechkin all scored goals in the second period and the Caps cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.
It was another much-needed win against an Eastern Conference team likely headed to the playoffs. But unlike two earlier meetings with Toronto (24-14-5, 53 points) this season, Washington came to play from the start. By game's end, it had outshot the Maple Leafs 37-30 and goalie Braden Holtby had finished with 29 saves.
The Caps (24-17-2, 50 points) have now won eight games in a row and are unbeaten in regulation over their last 10. They are 12-1-1 since March 21 and 22-9-1 in the last 32 games.
"We just wanted to focus on our third period tonight after getting the lead," said Brouwer, who now has 17 goals on the season. "Being able to hold the lead and not even give them a sniff. We did that, we felt good about our game all the way through."
The Caps took the initial lead when defenseman Jack Hillen's shot from the left point deflected off the stick of Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri and past goalie Ben Scrivens at 14:27 of the first period. It was Hillen's third goal in his last four games. He also has six points in his last five.
Washington extended its advantage in the second period. At the end of a 5-on-4 power play, Ovechkin fired a slap pass from his favorite spot low in the left faceoff circle, and Erat was there to tap home his first goal since the Caps acquired him in a trade with Nashville on April 3. That made it 2-0.
Brouwer upped that again when he drove in on a 2-on-1 with defenseman John Carlson, who threaded a perfect cross-ice pass. Brouwer deked to his backhand and beat Scrivens between the pads for a 3-0 lead.
Ovechkin extended that lead further at 13:59 of the second period on the power play. He took a pass at the top of the left circle from Green and rifled a shot past Scrivens for the 4-0 advantage. Ovechkin now has 19 goals and nine assists in his last 18 games. He also leads the NHL with 28 goals through 43 games -- 15 of them on the power play. Marcus Johansson added a fifth goal on the power play in the third period.
"We're not getting overconfident right now, which is good," Holtby said. "We protected the lead a lot better tonight, especially in the third. We're making strides in all areas of the game right now."