WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals still have hopes of making the playoffs, however slim their chances might be.
When coach Bruce Boudreau took over on Nov. 22, the Capitals had the worst record in the NHL. Now they are on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and Boudreau already has plans to keep his eyes on his competitors Saturday.
"I watch scores. That’s all I do," Boudreau said.
The Capitals beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1 on Friday night, but Washington is still five points behind Carolina for the Southeast Division lead. The Capitals also trail eighth-place Philadelphia by three points and ninth-place Buffalo by one.
"It’s a fun time of the year to be scoreboard watching," Boudreau said. "The biggest thing is when you don’t play, you lose. That’s what I found. If we have a day off tomorrow, somebody’s going to gain on us."
Boudreau was pleased about his team’s play. Brooks Laich scored two goals and Alex Ovechkin and Matt Cooke each had a goal and an assist. Washington outshot Atlanta 37-12.
"It was as complete a game we’ve played," Boudreau said.
Laich, who had never scored twice in any of his first 214 NHL games, has multigoal efforts in three of the past nine.
Ovechkin, the NHL leader in goals and points, gave Washington a 4-1 lead with his 57th goal and 99th point. He assisted on Laich’s first of the night.
Laich’s second goal gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead. He tapped the puck past goalie Kari Lehtonen in a mad scramble in front of the Atlanta net. The puck crossed the line an instant before the net was dislodged. After a consultation, the goal was allowed.
Washington has 10 games left, including two against Carolina and a difficult six-game road trip that begins Tuesday.
"We were written off early in the season, too," Laich said. "We still believe in here. Ten games is a lot of hockey."
Atlanta took a 1-0 lead when Slava Kozlov’s slap shot beat a screened Olie Kolzig at 11:41 of the first period.
Washington, which pressed play from the outset, tied it three minutes later when Laich scored from 20 feet. Laich took a pass from Ovechkin, who extended his point streak to eight games — tied for his longest of the season.
Cooke’s breakaway, short-handed goal, scored at 14:41, gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead. He received an assist on Laich’s second goal.
Ovechkin scored just 4 seconds into a power play at 1:07 of the third.
"Yeah, it’s an interesting time right now," Ovechkin said. "Everybody is concentrating about the game and we still have 10 games left."
Kolzig started a second straight game for the first time since the Capitals acquired Cristobal Huet from Montreal on Feb. 26. He stopped 11 shots and won his 301st game, tying him with former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter for 22nd place on the NHL career wins list.
He wasn’t pleased that he had such an easy night.
"Don’t joke about those games. I hate those games," Kolzig said. "I absolutely hate those games. You have to play a lot of mind games with yourself. You have to keep yourself in them, and stay focused."
Atlanta was seeking its second consecutive regulation win for the first time since Dec. 18-20.
"Our guys tried. I didn’t think it was a lack of effort," Thrashers coach Don Waddell said. "We just didn’t have enough gas in the tank."