There's much to Laich in Capitals' victory

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Short-handed goal key against the Maple Leafs

Capitals center Brooks Laich was home Saturday night watching the Toronto Maple Leafs, his team's scheduled opponent less than 24 hours later at Verizon Center.

On one particular power play, Laich noticed that the Maple Leafs like to try a drop pass in the neutral zone to gain speed. With some help from assistant coach Dean Evason and video coordinator Blaine Forsythe, Laich realized it's a common play for Toronto. He used that knowledge to his advantage.

Laich swiped one of those neutral zone passes from Maple Leafs forward Jake Gardiner and scored a short-handed goal in the first period. That tally held up in goalie Michal Neuvirth's third shutout of the season as Washington beat Toronto 2-0 to complete a perfect weekend.

"I knew our forecheck would be to squeeze and attack the dump in or the drop pass," Laich said. "So I talked it over with Blaine Forsythe and Dean Evason a little bit, and they reinforced what I thought. And I got a little lucky."

Luck or not, it was the key play in another huge win for the Caps (35-28-6, 76 points), who remain the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase after beating Toronto and Boston on back-to-back days. They are four points clear of No. 9 Winnipeg and No. 10 Buffalo and seven points ahead of No. 11 Tampa Bay. They remain one point behind Florida for the Southeast Division lead and the automatic No. ?3 seed. The Panthers beat Carolina on Sunday 2-0.

"You don't want to think of it as breathing room by any means because it's not," forward Matt Hendricks said. "Two bad days and next thing you know you're outside looking in again. So we need to keep to the grindstone and keep doing the things that we've been doing and try to keep winning hockey games."

Neuvirth finished with 23 saves, while the Capitals managed just 23 shots themselves, Toronto never really threatened. Washington took just one penalty and controlled possession throughout a fast-moving contest that lasted just about 2 hours, 15 minutes.

The Caps took complete control when Mathieu Perreault chopped home a loose puck after some dazzling moves by teammate Alexander Semin. That made it 2-0 just 42 seconds into the second period. But it could have been worse. Mike Knuble pushed home a goal that was waved off by the referee. Marcus Johansson blew a golden chance at a wide open net late in the third period on a pretty pass from Perreault.

The victory sets up a critical five-game road trip that includes difficult games at Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, not to mention a showdown with Winnipeg on Friday. It begins with a game at the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"It's always nice when you back-and-forth, back-and-forth and you're still in," winger Alex Ovechkin said. "It's nice when you know, like, the season's not over."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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