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Maple Leafs beat Capitals 3-2 for first home win

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Maple Leafs beat Capitals 3-2 for first home win

TORONTO (AP) Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin scored third-period goals to give the Toronto Maple Leafs their first home win of the season with a 3-2 comeback victory over the struggling Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

Kulemin tied it 2-all at 7:40 of the third, poking in a puck that squeezed through Michal Neuvirth's legs following Michael Kostka's shot from the point. As the Washington goalie tried in vain to squeeze his pads, Kulemin reached behind and nudged the puck in for his first of the year.

Frattin made it 3-2, capping a nice passing play with Nazem Kadri at 9:53 by tapping in the puck for his fourth goal - and sixth point - in four games.

The Maple Leafs lived dangerously in the final minutes as the Capitals (1-5-1) pressed for a tying goal that never came.

James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto (4-3-0), which outshot Washington 40-22. The Maple Leafs had their chances to take control earlier in the game, but a lack of clinical finishing and a failure to convert numerous power-play opportunities frustrated them before 19,374 at the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto, which came into the game ranked 20th on the power play, went 1 for 8 with the man-advantage. There were no penalties in the third period.

Alex Ovechkin doubled his goal output on the season when he scored on the power play at 2:38 of the second period, drilling a low wrist shot through James Reimer from just outside the faceoff circle for a 2-1 lead.

Joel Ward opened the scoring for Washington, which has yet to win on the road. Mike Ribeiro had two assists, upping his scoring total to one goal and seven assists.

Before the game, Ward noted on Twitter that baseball icon Jackie Robinson would have turned 94 on Thursday.

``Hope I represent the number well! 42,'' tweeted Ward, who wears the number in Robinson's honor.

The Capitals went ahead within the first 2 minutes of the game but then were assessed five straight penalties in the next 9 minutes and were outshot 15-7 in the first period. Toronto was on the power play for 6:11 of the first 20 minutes, managing to take advantage once.

Thanks to Ovechkin, the Caps led 2-1 midway through the game despite having only 10 shots.

The Leafs were coming off a 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo on Tuesday. Washington lost 3-2 in Ottawa the same night, giving up a 2-0 lead and conceding the winning goal on the power play with 2:30 remaining.

Going into the game, both teams had snipers stuck in neutral.

Ovechkin, who arrived with one goal and one assist, hasn't had an even-strength goal in his last 10 games, dating back to the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Leafs showed him little respect, with captain Dion Phaneuf bowling him over in the Washington crease in the first period. The Capitals star did not manage a shot on goal in the first period.

Toronto sniper Phil Kessel, meanwhile, entered the game goalless with three assists in his first six games - failing to score on 27 shots in his bid for his 100th goal with the Maple Leafs.

His drought continued in the first period as Neuvirth stoned him from in close during a 4-minute power play with Jason Chimera off for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct.

But a Kessel shot on the extended power play led to van Riemsdyk's goal as the big forward, stationed in front like a lamppost, tucked in the rebound for his fourth of the season at 8:19.

The Caps had jumped into the lead at 1:36 when Ribeiro, angling the puck from behind the goal, threaded a pass through several Toronto defenders to an unmarked Ward who fired it in.

Kessel, who had five shots in the first 40 minutes, was somehow denied by Neuvirth midway through the second when he tucked a shot between his legs from in-close. Neuvirth did it again with a glove save in the third.

Neuvirth, who deserved a better result, also stopped van Riemsdyk on a late breakaway.

Clarke MacArthur (finger), Mike Komisarek (eye) and Mike Brown (shoulder) sat out for the Leafs.

NOTES: Toronto claimed 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward Frazer McLaren off waivers from San Jose. The Maple Leafs also called up Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton and placed Mike Brown on injured reserve after he hurt his shoulder in a fight Tuesday. ... Washington forward Brooks Laich, recovering from a groin injury sustained playing in Europe during the lockout, took part in the morning skate for the first time this season. ... Toronto's homestand continues Saturday against Boston and Monday against Carolina.

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NHL Power Rankings: Bye week blues

NHL Power Rankings: Bye week blues

The schedule makers did the Capitals no favors in their return from the bye week. They returned with a road game at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Detroit, then had to play the New York Rangers on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., less than 24 hours after the game against the Red Wings started.

That would have been tough at any point in the season. Having that back-to-back coming out of the bye week was a raw deal.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

The record across the NHL for teams returning from the bye is 3-12-4. Many may argue this is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from and that's probably true. Claiming every time a team loses out of the bye that it's because they have been off for a week is an easy excuse. Every team has to play the schedule it's given. Nashville had a similar challenge to Washington, playing a back-to-back out of the weekend against Minnesota and Columbus with both games on the road. The Predators, however, managed a win in the second game.

But still, the NHL needs to be smarter with how it schedules after the bye. No team should have to play a back-to-back in their first two games back, period. If that record continues to get worse, then the leauge will have to adjust to ensure teams coming out of the bye play each other. Otherwise they are giving a competitive advantage to the opponent and to any team that ends up with multiple games against teams in their first game back.

You can't blame the schedule for Washington walking away from this weekend with only one point. That's on them. But, you also can't argue that the schedule put them at a disadvantage for Sunday's game when they played a Rangers team that had been off since Thursday in New York less than 24 hours after the puck dropped in Detroit.

With two losses in their return, the Caps relinquished the top spot in this week's NHL Power Rankings. Find out how far they fell and who took their place here.

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Philipp Grubauer again states case as NHL's best backup

Philipp Grubauer again states case as NHL's best backup

NEW YORK—Philipp Grubauer didn’t get the ‘W’ Sunday at Madison Square Garden, but his scintillating 28-save performance against the Rangers still managed to bolster the backup’s standing as the NHL’s best No. 2 netminder.

Grubauer, in fact, now leads the league in quality start percentage (.786), having posted 11 quality starts in 14 opportunities. The guy right behind him? Wild starter and Vezina Trophy favorite Devan Dubnyk, who boasts a .756 quality start percentage in 45 opportunities.

“Grubi has got a lot of the tougher starts, the back-to-backs, and he’s accepted that and he’s come out and played well,” Coach Barry Trotz said.

Indeed, Grubauer was called upon early and often in Sunday’s game as he stopped 18 of the Rangers’ 19 first period shots. It was the second game of a back-to-back set for the Caps, and it included a quick turnaround and no morning skate.

RELATED: Power Rankings: Bye week blues

Trotz acknowledged that the Caps’ post-bye week schedule factored into the goalie rotation over the weekend. The team practiced on Friday, then hit the road for back-to-back matinees in Detroit and New York. That meant no morning skate in either city. And because Holtby, who is also having a strong season, prefers to face shots during the morning skate prior to a start, the staff decided to tap him against the Red Wings since the starter against the Rangers would go two days without the benefit of a morning skate.

Which, of course, is the sort of thing that happens to backups.

“We thought [Grubauer’s] mindset would be much better to handle that than Braden, who is used to being in there all the time,” Trotz explained. “[Grubauer] was very accepting of that. He’s played fantastic for us this year.”

Grubauer said the Caps’ slow start against the Rangers actually helped him get back into the groove following six days off and the team’s challenging weekend schedule.

“It was good to get into the game, but that’s not the way we want to start,” he said. “You’ve got to find your rhythm again and it helped to get a couple of [quality] shots early.”

Trotz said the game could have been “5-0 in the first period, not 1-0” without Grubauer. And his players agreed.

“Grubi was outstanding, in the first especially,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Nicklas Backstrom added: “Grubi kept us in there in the first period. He kept us in the game there. We were lucky we were only down a goal. It could have been more, but he made some huge saves.”

Performances such as that one have helped Grubauer rack up some outstanding numbers. Overall, the 25-year-old German is third in both save percentage (.932) and goals against average (1.98) among goalies with at least 15 appearances. In addition, he’s got three shutouts, including two in his last six starts.

It also seems likely that Grubauer will hear his number called frequently down the stretch with five sets of back-to-backs remaining. With 14 starts already this season, he just two behind the career-high he established last year.

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