Neither seemed possible in early February, but the Washington Capitals are atop their division and Alex Ovechkin is tied for the NHL lead in goals.
Washington got two goals from their star wing in a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday at Verizon Center.
It was the Capitals' sixth straight victory against a Southeast Division opponent and broke a tie with the Winnipeg Jets for first place.
Washington started 2-8-1 under new coach Adam Oates, and Ovechkin had three goals in those 11 games. He has 16 goals in his past 14 games.
"Right now I feel pretty good, and again, winning games is the most important thing," Ovechkin said. "Of course I'm happy I'm scoring goals. The beginning of the year was a pretty hard time for our whole organization. Right now, we're back on track, and it's good."
The Capitals scored the final three goals, two in the second period and an empty-netter by Ovechkin. It gave him 25 this season to tie Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos for the League lead.
"I think our line played well and everybody has confidence," Ovechkin said. "... When your line feels good and your line feels comfortable out there, you feel the same."
Washington is 12-3-0 against its division this season, and 13-1-1 in its past 14 home games against Tampa Bay, which visits again Saturday.
The Capitals are 18-9-1 since Feb. 7.
"For the last month, we don't even talk about it. It's just the way we play. It's not my system or anything -- it's just the way we play hockey," Oates said. "Guys know it, and when we make mistakes, it's just a team making mistakes. We don't talk about it like that, every guy knows it. We're playing hockey.”
Washington forward Joel Ward made the score 3-2 late in the second period with a strong move toward the net. He received the puck in a rush up ice at the offensive blue line along the left-wing boards. He curled around a defender and lifted a forehand from in close past Ben Bishop's glove with 3:39 left.
Defenseman John Karlson earlier finished a rush to tie the game 2-2. Receiving a pass in the center faceoff circle, Karlson sped into the zone and blasted a slap shot to the top right corner at 12:54.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring at 1:52 of the first period, seven seconds into a power play. Vincent Lecavalier won the faceoff back to Sami Salo, who passed to Martin St. Louis on the right wing. His cross-ice pass found Lecavalier at the far post for a tap-in past Michael Neuvirth.
The Lightning were 13-0-1 when leading after one period this season. Tampa Bay led the Southeast at 6-1-0 but now sit fourth at 16-20-2.
"That's a tough one," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "First of all, we put ourselves in this situation so that makes it tough to begin with. I think our guys battled hard, I thought we had every chance to win that game. The boys are battling hard ... there's a lot of good to take out of this but ultimately it's a loss.”
Ovechkin tied the game 1-1 at 3:14 of the second period when he deflected Jack Hillen's wrist shot from the point into the net. Ovechkin had five goals this weekend in back-to-back games against the Lightning and Florida Panthers.
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead 3:23 later when Alex Killorn gathered a long, bouncing pass, eluded Hillen and slid the partial breakaway through Neuvirth's five-hole.
Neuvirth made 28 saves, 11 in the third period, playing his first game since March 16.
"I can't say enough about [Neuvirth]," Hillen said. "He did a great job tonight. That's what you need him to do. … He was excellent. He was definitely our No. 1 star today, for sure."
Ward left the game in the third period after injuring his leg blocking a shot.
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