LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals went into last night's NHL game knowing it was win or else, and the or else meant waking up today perhaps just one point out of fifth place in the Patrick Division standings.
But Michal Pivonka came through the back door with 13 minutes left against Toronto, to stake the Capitals to a 2-1 lead that sparked the 3-1 victory that broke a five-game winless streak. Toronto had been 10-1-1 in its past 12 games.
Washington's Kevin Hatcher scored a short-handed goal into an open net with one second left.
"I'm very happy to get a win against anybody," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "We got the break we've been waiting for tonight. I don't know what happened behind the Toronto goal, but somehow Peter Bondra got the puck and was able to get it out to Pivonka. It was a lucky goal, but it was a pretty well-played game overall. I hope it's something we can build on."
The victory propelled the Capitals back into second place in the division.
Pivonka received the puck from Bondra behind the Toronto net and then skated around the right side of the net to beat defenseman Bob Rouse and put the puck away behind Maple Leafs goalie Daren Puppa.
"It was a huge win," said Pivonka. "I don't think we were playing bad before, but we were making all the other goalkeepers look
good. This should be a big step for us."
Pivonka nearly made it 3-1 with 8:11 left, but for the fifth time in four games, the Capitals had an apparent goal wiped off the scoreboard. This time, the referee caught Pivonka knocking the puck in with his hand.
The Capitals had another difficult night on the power play, failing to score on five chances. They are 4-for-52 during their past 10 games.
Dave Andreychuk gave the Maple Leafs another demonstration of how smart they were to trade for him Feb. 2, when he followed up a shot by Glenn Anderson for a 1-0 lead with 18:52 gone in the first period.
Don Beaupre, who made 23 saves last night, gave up Toronto's only goal when the puck "somehow bounced away" from his body and Andreychuk lifted the rebound past him.
"We're not going to count on anything. We've got to control our own destiny," said Beaupre. "It's very tight right now, and we can't just back into the playoffs. We have to go in playing well as a team and that means we have to go in winning."
Andreychuk's goal was on the power play and gave him the NHL lead in that category with 26. It was his 14th goal in 15 games since joining Toronto.
It took an all-out effort by Keith Jones, who fought for position in front of the Toronto goal with 6:44 to play in the second period, for Washington to tie things.
He was well positioned to the right of Puppa when Hatcher sent him the puck. Once Jones got it on the end of his stick, he had to muscle it into the Toronto net.
The result was a 1-1 tie that stood into the third period.
The Capitals played very conservatively in their own end, giving Toronto only a handful of good shots.
"We finished our checks and we stayed very patient," said Hatcher. "We figured we might have to win one 2-1 or 3-1, so we tightened up and got a real big win."
NOTES: The Capitals game at the Islanders Sunday will be played at 5:10 p.m., not 7:40 as originally scheduled.