WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin is striving to make the Washington Capitals matter again, and he wants to do it quickly.

“For a determined guy, he seems to be even more determined when it gets down to the nitty gritty,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “When this organization does make the playoffs, you’re likely going to see someone who plays even greater hockey.”

The reigning rookie of the year is right on track, if the last two games are any indication.

First, the Capitals went to Philadelphia – where they hadn’t won in their previous 16 trips – and beat the Flyers 5-3 on Saturday night. Then, against visiting Ottawa – unbeaten in its last eight games at Washington – the Capitals fell behind 3-0 in the opening 12 minutes, yanked starting goalie Olie Kolzig, and came all the way back to win 4-3 in overtime Monday night.

Washington hasn’t been in the postseason since 2003, but with Ovechkin leading the way, getting back to the playoffs is not out of the question.

“We never give up,” Kolzig said. “Last year, going into the season, it was, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun and then see what happens.’ Now we believe we can actually win games.”

Ovechkin scored two goals in each of those past two victories, including one from a seemingly impossible angle with 24.4 seconds left in regulation against Ottawa to force overtime.

So was he thrilled to help end the streaks of futility against the Flyers and Senators, even if both of those clubs are going through tough times?

“We don’t know the history,” Ovechkin said. “We just come and play every game and try to win every game, and we’re getting better all the time.”

Both he and his team are.

Washington now owns consecutive wins for the first time this season and is 6-4-4 for 16 points. That was good enough to enter Tuesday tied for second in the Southeast Division and tied for the fifth-most points in the Eastern Conference.

The season is young, of course, but so is Washington’s roster, so any early signs of progress are important. This is a team that finished 29-41-12 and in last place in 2005-06; the Capitals also were at the bottom of their division in 2003-04.

“Now we know we can score, and that’s the difference,” said captain Chris Clark, who netted the winning goal to cap the rally against Ottawa. “We can come back and actually win these games, not just fight hard and make it respectable.”

There are several ways in which the Capitals are better, including the key offseason additions of defenseman Brian Pothier and winger Alexander Semin (whose 15 points rank second on the club).

But the biggest reason for the optimism, of course, is Ovechkin.

“He’s like a Rocket Richard-type player,” New York Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. “He kind of zeroes in on the goal and is very hungry to score.”

Devils 3, Hurricanes 2

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – John Madden scored in the sixth round of a shootout Tuesday night to give the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Madden whipped a forehand over Cam Ward’s stick, sending the Devils to their fourth win in five games. Earlier in the shootout, Brian Gionta scored for New Jersey in the second round before Rod Brind’Amour countered for Carolina in the third.

The Devils got regulation goals from Travis Zajac and Jim Dowd as they beat the Hurricanes, who knocked New Jersey out of the 2006 playoffs in the second round, for the second time in two meetings this season. Dowd sent the game into overtime by scoring with 1 minute remaining. Eric Stall and Brind’Amour scored for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Canadiens 3, Oilers 2

MONTREAL – Alex Kovalev scored on Montreal’s fourth attempt in a shootout, giving the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Using a similar move to the one Canadiens captain Saku Koivu successfully completed to open the shootout, Kovalev deked Dwayne Roloson.

before tucking a forehand inside the left post.

David Aebischer, who made 26 saves during the game, stopped Jarret Stoll on Edmonton’s final attempt after allowing Ales Hemsky’s goal on the Oilers’ second shot.

Petr Sykora scored his team-leading ninth goal 15:30 into the third to tie it at 2 after 19-year-old Canadiens rookie Guillaume Latendresse scored his first NHL goal at the beginning of the period.

Promoted to the Canadiens’ top line because of leading scorer Christopher Higgins’ ankle injury, Latendresse pushed the puck across the goal line behind Roloson for his first career point in his 14th game of the season.

Edmonton’s Raffi Torres was called for tripping with 56.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Montreal’s power-play opportunity was short-lived, though, because Mark Streit was also sent off for tripping just more than 4 seconds later.

Craig Rivet also scored for Montreal, which has won three of four.

Brad Winchester scored his first career regular-season goal for Edmonton, which has lost three straight and five of six.

Higgins, who had eight goals – including a league-leading three short-handed – and 13 points in 12 games, will be sidelined for six weeks after injuring his ankle Saturday in the third period of the Canadiens’ 2-1 loss to New Jersey.

He finished that game but was already held out of the lineup for the game against the Oilers when MRI results Tuesday revealed a partially torn ligament in his right ankle.

Kovalev came close to giving Montreal the opening goal when his backhand struck the right post 12:00 in.

Winchester followed that chance up with his first goal in 33 career regular-season games to put Edmonton up 1-0 at 13:54.

After Winchester and Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek squared off in the first of three fights in the second, Rivet scored his second of the season at 6:32, tying the game with a hard wrist shot to the top right corner off a pass from Streit.

Montreal’s Aaron Downey fought with Oilers captain Jason Smith at 12:23, and Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray was given an instigator penalty with 2:00 left in the period when he went after Matt Greene after the Edmonton defenseman appeared to stick out his leg while he tripped Montreal’s Mike Johnson.

Johnson had to be helped off the ice, but he returned for the third period.

Notes: Winchester had one goal and two assists in 10 playoff games last season. He has four assists overall in regular-season play, including three in 14 games this season. … Canadiens LW Sergei Samsonov got his 400th career point with an assist on Rivet’s goal. Samsonov, who signed as a free agent with Montreal on July 12, had four goals and 11 assists in 19 playoff games last season with Edmonton, which acquired him in a trade with Boston on March 9.

AP-ES-11-07-06 2251EST



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