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Caps prevail, dash Thrasher playoff hopes

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Atlanta goalie Mike Dunham dropped his head
and skated slowly to the sideline, yanked after allowing two goals
23 seconds apart.

Then his replacement got hurt, forcing Dunham back onto the ice.
Atlanta gave away a third-period lead and lost 6-4 to the
Washington Capitals on Monday night, eliminating any chance the
Thrashers had of reaching the playoffs for the first time.

"It's just one of those nights where the bounces were funny
bounces. It's a bad time to have one of those nights," said
Dunham, who had won four straight starts in place of injured
regular Kari Lehtonen. "What else can you say?"

The Thrashers led after 11 seconds on Bobby Holik's goal, then
were up 4-3 entering the final period thanks to former Capitals
star Peter Bondra's goal. But the Capitals -- who'll finish 27th in
the 30-team NHL -- kept coming back.

"You do not play that way in big games. It's unacceptable,"
Holik said.

"Six goals against, trying to get in the playoffs," he added,
his voice trailing off.

Capitals rookie sensation Alex Ovechkin scored the tying goal
and assisted on the go-ahead goal. Ovechkin, honored during
ceremonies before and after Washington's home finale, reached 52
goals and 105 points; both totals rank third in NHL history for a
rookie.

"I hope next season will be better," Ovechkin said. "I think
next season we'll go to the playoffs, for sure."

Atlanta entered the day ninth in the Eastern Conference, four
points behind No. 7 Montreal and three behind No. 8 Tampa Bay.
Victories Monday over Washington and Tuesday over Florida, combined
with a loss by the Canadiens or Lightning, would have put the
Thrashers in the postseason.

But they couldn't pull it off.

"I'm very sad for the entire organization that we come down to
the second-last game and we can't force that 82nd game to mean
something," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "It's close. But
close is not good. It's only good in curling. It doesn't count in
hockey."

Dunham allowed five of the goals. Brooks Laich made it 1-1 at
3:52 of the first period on a shot that appeared to ricochet off
Dunham's left skate and glove. Washington went ahead 22 seconds
later on the first of Matt Pettinger's two goals, giving him 20 for
the season.

Hartley promptly pulled Dunham, who faced five shots in the
opening 4:15 -- and made only three saves. Dunham took a seat at the
far end of Atlanta's bench area and leaned against the glass, a
ballcap pulled low over his eyes.

Michael Garnett, a rookie who's shuttled between Atlanta and the
minors this season, played the rest of the first period and allowed
one goal. But between periods, he told Hartley he couldn't continue
because of a pulled groin.

So Dunham went back out, shutting down Washington in the second
period. But Ovechkin scored from the left slot on a pass from Ben
Clymer to tie it 2:36 into the final period, then found Brian
Willsie open during a two-man advantage for the score that made it
5-4 at the 8:58 mark. Pettinger tacked on an insurance goal at
12:26.

Atlanta trailed 3-2 when defenseman Garnet Exelby tied the game
6:40 into the second period with his first goal of the season, a
slapshot through traffic. Bondra -- the career leader for Washington
in several scoring categories -- put the visitors up 4-3 only 2:09
later.

Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig finished with 38 saves, 14 in the
final period, against a team that beat Washington in five of the
teams' seven other meetings this season.

"We hate that team. I think it started at the beginning of the
year," Kolzig said. "I'm not going to say they're dirty, but they
push the limits in how hard they play. They spanked us a few times
earlier in the year. It was sweet revenge. We got the last
laugh."

Game notes
Kolzig earned his 20th win; it's his seventh season with at
least that many. ... Steve McCarthy scored for Atlanta. Brooks
Laich and Rico Fata each had a goal and an assist for Washington.
... The attendance of 16,891 was Washington's third-highest of the
season. The team's final home average of 13,905 ranks 28th in the
league.