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HOCKEY

Ovechkin returns as Capitals visit Canadiens

Alex Ovechkin will try to help the Washington Capitals game slide in over two months, as the star forward returns from suspension today to battle the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Ovechkin was banned for three games for an illegal hit on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek on Jan. 22 and Washington went 1-1-1 without him. The Russian sniper also opted to skip the All-Star weekend in Ottawa even though his suspension did not apply to the league's midseason showcase.

Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy winner, is having a down year by his standards, but the 26-year-old Russian is still leading Washington with 20 goals and is second on the team with 39 points.

Both the Capitals and Canadiens will be seeking their first win after the All- Star break today. The Habs have dropped two straight in regulation since the break, while Washington suffered an overtime loss in Tampa on Tuesday before losing a key divisional matchup the following night at Florida. The Caps haven't lost three in a row since an 0-4 stretch from Nov. 25-Dec. 1.

The Capitals are currently sitting ninth in the East standings and are trailing Toronto by two points for the conference's last playoff seed. Washington is also three points in back of Florida for first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the East.

Washington missed an opportunity to keep first place in the division when it visited the Panthers on Wednesday. The Caps entered the game leading Florida by a point, but the Panthers posted a 4-2 win to leap past Washington and into first. Mikael Samuelsson tallied twice and Shawn Matthias provided a late insurance goal for Florida.

Brooks Laich and John Carlson tallied for the Capitals, while Michal Neuvirth allowed three goals on 37 shots for the loss.

"I thought we played hard. You don't like to lose like this," said Capitals head coach Dale Hunter. "We were in the game, but it's one of those things where you don't get the breaks you want."

Washington has dropped its last four games on the road and is completing a three-game swing today. The Caps are just 8-14-3 as the guest this year compared to an 18-6-1 mark in D.C.

The Canadiens were dealt a 3-1 loss by visiting Buffalo on Tuesday and then dropped a 5-3 decision Thursday in New Jersey. Montreal held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 over the Devils, but ultimately lost in regulation.

Andrei Kostitsyn, David Desharnais and Mathieu Darche all had goals for the Canadiens, while Carey Price gave up four goals on 21 shots in the loss.

"It's tough to blame the bounces, it was more that we didn't stick together for 60 minutes tonight," said Darche. "It's never over till it's over, but we've dug ourselves a big hole and losing these two games didn't help."

With 47 points, the Canadiens are tied for last in the Eastern Conference and are 11 points out of a playoff spot.

Montreal is kicking off a three-game homestand today and is just 9-10-7 in Quebec this season.

The Canadiens and Caps have met just once this season and that was in Montreal on Jan. 18, when Washington notched a 3-0 win to take its third straight decision in this series. Neuvirth made 31 saves to post the shutout in that outing and Ovechkin scored one of Washington's three goals.

Washington has also claimed three straight in Montreal and is 4-0-1 in its last five trips to the Bell Centre.