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BRUINS 3, CAPITALS 2

Bruins wield 'Ax' in victory

WASHINGTON -- Coach Mike Sullivan's strategy last night was similar to that for Saturday's contest against the New York Rangers. When Rangers star Jaromir Jagr was on the ice, so was Bruins left wing P.J. Axelsson. With Boston being home and having last change, it's considerably easier to achieve that matchup. Axelsson held Jagr off the board, though Jagr did score during the shootout.

Against Washington last night, Axelsson's assignment was to shut down Capitals rookie phenom Alexander Ovechkin. He held Ovechkin off the board completely as the Bruins went up, 3-0, and then hung on for a 3-2 win at the MCI Center.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (22 saves) had another strong performance, particularly in the third period, when he turned back 12 bids.

When Axelsson broke into the NHL during the 1997-98 season, his contributions were overshadowed by the fact that he was in the same rookie class as Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. But he, Tim Taylor, and Rob DiMaio formed a formidable line that did a terrific job of shutting down other teams' best lines.

Now, a month shy of age 31, Axelsson is getting the job of shadow all by himself. He said he deserves only a little of the credit.

''I don't think it's just me," said Axelsson. ''It's five guys out there and sometimes I do miss him and then someone else fills in. It probably would be tough to do it every night, obviously; then you'd probably forget how it is to play hockey. But some nights I don't mind it at all."

Axelsson said he definitely felt the difference between Saturday's game and last night.

''It's a lot harder on the road," he said. ''When they have the last change, it's a lot of jumping back and forth over the boards."

Sullivan had nothing but praise for the job he did.

''He's such an intelligent player out there," said the coach. ''He's very effective at it. It really gives our team an advantage if we decide to use him in that capacity. [Getting] the lead was certainly an important part of it. We had a little more flexibility and it allows us to stick to the game plan."

The Bruins came flying out of the gate in the opening period, dominating play and outshooting the Capitals, 13-4, as they took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Center Wayne Primeau scored his first of two when he beat goalie Brent Johnson at the six-minute mark.

Boston made its lead 2-0 at 12:29 of the second on Primeau's 10th of the season. Nick Boynton kept in the puck at the blue line and fired a shot from long range that Primeau redirected past Johnson. It was the third time in his career that Primeau had potted two goals in a contest and the second time this season.

Right wing Brad Boyes boosted the advantage to three goals at 16:37 when he beat Johnson with a backhander from the crease.

The Capitals broke through late in the second period when right wing Brian Willsie beat Thomas on a forehander from the low slot at 18:44. They closed within one, 3-2, early in the third on center Brooks Laich's goal at 2:51 off a scramble.

The finish was a wild one as the Capitals threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Bruins late in the third period. But Thomas made some remarkable stops to preserve the victory. The most dangerous bid was by Ovechkin, who drove in alone and hit the left post with 1:40 remaining.

''I couldn't really catch him," said Axelsson. ''I had to let him go because I didn't want to take a penalty. I had to rely on the defensemen and the goalie and they did a good job."

Thomas said he was just telling himself to earn his money.

''He was coming in and I knew he had enough room to probably get a shot off," said the goalie. ''He's real shifty and he wants to be the hero.

''He went behind the [defenseman] for a second and I lost him and it isn't like he gives away the exact time he's going to shoot like some players do. He had a really quick release and I think I had my angle and I had just about everything taken away. He hit the post just about 6 inches below the crossbar."

The Bruins have now taken points in five straight games, three of them wins. Will Sullivan let Axelsson loose against the Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk tonight in Atlanta?

''You're getting ahead of me," he said.

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