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Green nets game winner as Capitals edge Canucks

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- In a game both teams desperately needed to remain in the playoff hunt, Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green found an opening midway through the third period and hit it.

"I actually was really shocked at how open that corner was," Green said of his rising 50-foot wrist shot that sailed past Vancouver Canucks rookie goaltender Eddie Lack for the game-winning goal in the Capitals' 4-3 win Friday night at the Verizon Center. "The goalie went down in the butterfly and I just shot to the right side and got lucky."

Green's goal, his ninth of the season, came with 10:19 gone in the third period.

Capitals goaltender Jaroslav Halak was forced to make several big saves down the stretch, including a breakaway stop on left winger Nicklas Jensen, to preserve the one-goal victory. Halak (26-11-4) finished the night with 38 saves on 41 shots.

"Both teams are looking from the outside in," Halak said. "We need the points and they need the points. This is big for us. I'm real happy our guys scored four goals for me."

Right wingers Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Joel Ward also scored for the Capitals, and rookie center Evgeny Kuznetsov picked up the first three assists of his NHL career.

Centers Jordan Schoeder and Shawn Matthias and Jensen scored for the Canucks.

With the win, the Capitals (31-27-10, 72 points) climbed to within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals have played three more games than Philadelphia.

The Canucks (30-29-10, 70 points) have lost 13 of their last 16 games (3-12-1) and remain four points behind the Dallas Stars for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

"We have to look at this road trip," Canucks center Henrik Sedin said, referring to a four-game trip that ends with games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. "We knew going in that we needed at least a 3-1 road trip. We've got to go down to Florida and get these two games and at least give ourselves a chance down the stretch."

The Capitals came into the game on a 1-4-1 slide in which they had been outscored 6-1 in the first period.

Ward put them on the board first with his career-high 19th goal of the season, swatting a centering pass from center Eric Fehr through Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa and just over the goal line.

The Canucks failed to score on a power play less than a minute after Ward's goal, but just 35 seconds after the penalty expired, Canucks right winger Zack Kassian beat Ovechkin to a loose puck and fed center Jordan Schroeder for his third goal of the season, a snap shot over the catching glove of Halak.

Washington entered the game ranked second on the power play and showed why 8:28 into the second period when Ovechkin scored his league-leading 45th goal and 19th on the power play.

With Vancouver left winger Tom Sestito in the box for hooking Wilson, Ovechkin positioned himself at the top of the left-wing circle and cranked a pass from defenseman John Carlson through a maze of players and Lack.

Kuznetsov picked up a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal and showed why the Capitals signed him out of the Kontinental Hockey League when he set up Wilson's third goal of the season with 12:35 gone in the second period.

Kuznetsov, 21, cruised down the left wing, faked a slap shot and fired a pass onto the stick of Wilson, 19. The Caps rookie wristed a shot high into the right corner of the net for a 3-1 lead.

"He is such a creative player, a lot of fun to play with," Wilson said. "He's really finding his groove."

It did not last.

The Canucks chipped away at the Capitals' lead in the third period, getting goals from Matthias and Jensen 3:06 apart to tie the score at 3-3 with 12:26 to play. Left winger Chris Higgins set up both goals, with both Matthias and Jensen finding an open spot just under Halak's blocker.

The Canucks had two excellent chances to tie the score in the closing minutes. With 6:48 to play, Jensen was stopped on a breakaway, shooting the puck into Halak's left pad. And with 4:28 remaining and the Canucks on the power play, Sedin slid a backhander through the goal mouth and out the other side.

"We played well and we came away empty," Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "No regulation points. It's a frustrating one for us because I thought a lot of people did a lot of good things."

NOTES: Before the game, Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom was told he will receive a silver medal from the International Olympic Committee. Backstrom was suspended for Sweden's gold-medal game against Canada on Feb. 23 after testing positive for pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in an allergy medication Backstrom has been taking for seven years. ... The Canucks were without C Ryan Kesler, who suffered a knee sprain on Wednesday night in Winnipeg and is expected to miss at least two weeks. Vancouver RW Zack Kassian returned to the lineup after serving a three-game suspension for boarding Dallas Stars D Brenden Dillon. ... The game marked John Tortorella's first game in Washington since coaching the New York Rangers to a series-clinching 5-0 victory in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. ... Washington is 31-5-5 when scoring three or more goals and 0-22-5 when scoring fewer than three goals. ... The Capitals return to action Sunday afternoon when they face the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canucks continue their four-game road trip Sunday in Sunrise, Fla., when they visit the Florida Panthers.

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