BOSTON - David Krejci's overtime bank shot off a defender's leg gave Boston a victory over its closest competitors in the Eastern Conference.
For the Washington Capitals, things could have been a lot worse.
Krejci scored a power-play goal off the leg of Capitals defender Shaone Morrisonn with 3:05 left in overtime Tuesday night and the Boston Bruins beat Washington 3-2 in a matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. But the Capitals escaped a scare after reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin returned from an awkward crash into the boards.
Team spokesman Paul Rovnak said Ovechkin had a "stinger" that felt better after about 15 minutes. Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 31 goals, missed the last 5:35 of the second period but returned for the third.
"He's a pretty tough kid," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The Bruins got an advantage just 48 seconds into the overtime when Niklas Backstrom was sent off for hooking. Controlling the puck in the Capitals zone, Krejci sat to goalie Jose Theodore's right and tried to cross it; Morrisonn blocked it with his leg but the puck deflected right into the goal.
"It seems like that happens once a game," Boudreau said. "It seems like one goal goes off a skate."
Tim Thomas stopped 34 shots for Boston and improved to 12-2-1 over his last 15 games. The Bruins have lost just four of its last 26 games in regulation - two of them to the Capitals, both on the road - and hold an 11-point lead over second-place Washington in the conference standings.
"This helps, because you don't know when you're going to see them again," Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler said. "We judge ourselves against this type of team."
Theodore made 25 saves for the Capitals, who remain atop the Southeast Division despite winning just three of their last eight games. But Boudreau said he wasn't concerned about catching Boston and earning the top seed in the playoffs.
"Did the No. 1 seed win last year? How about the year before?" he said. "Who's in the Super Bowl? It's like a two and a six. It's not like the NCAAs when a No. 16 against a one and you don't have much of a chance."
Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 31 goals, hit the boards behind the Bruins goal with his head and right shoulder, then remained motionless on the ice for about 15 seconds before rolling over and rubbing his face with his glove. Although he left the ice a few minutes later, he was doubled over and flexing his right arm.
He sat on the bench just a few minutes before walking off through the tunnel and slamming his gloves and helmet to the ground. But he returned for the start of the third period.
The news was even better for Boston: Forward Patrice Bergeron, who missed most of last season with a concussion and then sustained another on Dec. 20 of this season, returned after missing 15 games.
"It was nice to see him back," Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "not only for us, but for his teammates."
Bruins forward Milan Lucic and defenceman Andrew Ference also returned after missing seven and 31 games, respectively.
Mike Green gave the Capitals the lead just 2:08 into the game, on a pass from Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. But Boston tied it when Washington turned it over in its own zone and Shawn Thornton picked it up and backhanded it over Theodore's glove.
It was the first even strength goal allowed by the Capitals in more than three games - a span of 208 minutes.
Michael Nylander gave Washington a 2-1 lead with 21 seconds left in the first. But Bergeron helped Boston tie it at two on a power play with 5:48 left second period when he dived to the ice to keep the puck in the zone and crossed it to Marc Savard at the right circle.
Notes: Boudreau was honoured Monday at the AHL all-star game in Worcester, Mass., and inducted into the league's Hall of Fame. ... Semin extended his points streak to seven games (4-4-8). ... Byron Bitz, who made his NHL debut on Jan. 10, got in his first career fight, against Donald Brashear. ... As Ovechkin returned, Capitals Semin was injured when he got a high stick from Chuck Kobasew in the neck on the opening possession of the third period. He also returned.