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Ward scores in third period as Capitals top Maple Leafs 3-2

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    Washington Capitals right wing Joel Ward (42) celebrates his goal with center Mikhail Grabovski (84), center Marcus Johansson (90) and defenseman Mike Green (52), with Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) nearby, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Washington. The Capitals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

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    Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russia, collides with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (36), from Sweden, during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

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    Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) and defenseman Tim Gleason (8) watch the puck bounce off the skate of center Jay McClement (11) for a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Washington. Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was credited with the goal. The Capitals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

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    Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (21) scores a goal past Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30), from the Czech Republic, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

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    Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (21) celebrates his goal with right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

Joel Ward scored the go-ahead goal with just over 8 minutes left in the third period, and Alex Ovechkin added a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Friday night.

Nicklas Backstrom also scored, and goalie Michal Neuvirth made 32 saves in his first game in seven weeks as the Capitals won on back-to-back nights for the fourth time this year.

It was the fourth straight loss for Toronto after a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic, and the Maple Leafs have been outscored 21-7 in the defeats. James Van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel each had a goal and an assist.

Kessel's team-high 21st goal gave Toronto a short-lived 2-1 lead in the third when his shot went off the stick of Washington defenseman Karl Alzner and over the shoulder of Neuvirth.

The Caps got the equalizer in similar fashion with 15:24 left as Backstrom's severe-angle shot went off the skate of Maple Leafs center Jay McClement and past Jonathan Bernier for his 11th goal.

Ward's winner, his 13th of the season, came with 8:10 left, 6 seconds after Toronto had killed a penalty, as he fired a slap shot from 15 feet out on a pass from Marcus Johansson.

After that, Neuvirth kept Washington in command, making his final save with 12 seconds left.

The last time the 25-year-old was set to play for the Capitals, on Nov. 29, he suffered a leg injury in warmups. He had not suited up for a game since. With the Caps playing their second of five games in a span of seven days, Braden Holtby struggling and rookie Philipp Grubauer coming off a taxing 4-3 win Thursday night at Tampa Bay, Neuvirth made his first start since Nov. 22.

In the absence of Neuvirth, Grubauer (6-2-3) emerged as perhaps the team's most reliable goalie, prompting Neuvirth to request a trade late last month.

NOTES: Washington D John Erskine had an eventful second period, drawing a pair of penalties for fighting. The scraps were against Cody Franson and Colton Orr.