NEWARK, N.J. – Rookie Michal Neuvirth stopped 33 shots for his fourth shutout and the Washington Capitals put another dagger in the New Jersey Devils' playoff hopes with a 3-0 victory on Friday night.
Defenseman Jeff Schultz broke an 81-game goal drought and Alex Ovechkin made a pair of fantastic passes to set up goals by goals by Mike Knuble as the Capitals bounced back from a loss to Detroit and won for the 13th time in 16 games, despite putting only 12 shots on goal.
The win gave the Capitals 94 points, tying them for first place in the Eastern Conference with idle Philadelphia. The Flyers have three games in hand and one more win.
The loss was the second in as many nights for New Jersey and left it six points behind idle Buffalo in the race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East with 11 games to play. It marked the first time since Jan. 6-8 that New Jersey has lost consecutive games. The Devils are 23-5-2 in their last 30.
Neuvirth and the Capitals penalty killers were the difference in the game in which New Jersey outshot the Capitals nearly 3-to-1. He stopped Ilya Kovalchuk with three great glove saves, the last on a breakaway with 2:57 to go that had the Russian slamming his stick into the end boards.
Neuvirth, who will turn 23 on Wednesday, was spectacular in the first period when New Jersey got 12 of the 14 shots and still left trailing 1-0. The Czech stopped Brian Rolston from between the circles in the opening minute, and made stops in close on Dainius Zubrus, defenseman Anton Volchenkov and rookie Nick Palmieri before the period ended.
Schultz got his first goal of the season and first since Feb. 11, 2010, when he took a pass from Knuble and fired a shot past Martin Brodeur at 6:10 of the opening period. It was the Caps second and last shot of the period.
Knuble extended the lead to 2-0 at 15:58 of the second period with a tic-tac-toe goal. After Washington kept the puck in the Devils' zone, Ovechkin sent a cross-ice pass from the left boards to defenseman John Carlson streaking in from the right point alone at Brodeur. Instead of shooting, Carlson centered the puck and Knuble deflected it into an open net for his 18th of the season.
The Devils had two chances to get back in the game right after that.
Kovalchuk swooped into the crease after a rush and his shot hit off the right goal post.
New Jersey got a four-minute power play right after that when Matt Hendricks clipped Rod Pelley near the face. The Devils managed two shots and were booed leaving the ice.
Knucle iced the game midway through the third period. Ovechkin sent another cross-ice pass from the left boards to the right circle that Knuble ripped into an open net.
NOTES: The Devils wore their throwback uniforms, the green pants and red and white shirts that brought back memories of Christmas past. Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom, who missed five games with a fractured thumb, returned to the lineup. ...The Devils and Caps made a deal just before the trading deadline with New Jersey sending Jason Arnott to Washington for David Steckel. Arnott missed the game his third straight game with an undisclosed injury and Steckel was scratched just before the faceoff with an upper body injury. ...The Capitals lead the season series 3-1. ...The game was a sellout with 17,625 fans. ...Washington is 2-1 on its current six-game road trip with the next stop in Philadelphia on Tuesday.