ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Late in the second period Thursday, with the game scoreless and chances at a premium, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson and Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise were taken to the penalty box.
The Capitals scored twice on the 4-on-4 and took control, winning 3-2 at Xcel Energy Center, Washington's first regulation victory here (1-6-1).
Washington (39-23-10) has 88 points, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for third most in the Metropolitan Division and five ahead of the Boston Bruins for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Minnesota (39-25-7), which has won its past eight games on the road, has lost four of six at home. Each of its past seven losses has been by one goal.
Minnesota is one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for the first Western Conference wild card, and three points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Winnipeg defeated the St. Louis Blues 2-1 in a shootout Thursday.
After the Capitals' morning skate, they discussed 4-on-4 situations and how they might be beneficial. Minnesota has struggled most of the season with four skaters a side, and Washington thought its speed and skill could be game-changers.
Near the Wild bench, Wilson tied up Parise's stick and drew a retaliatory punch at 14:45.
"I wasn't really concentrating on who I was taking with me, it was just a hockey play," Wilson said. "Good response by us. Those were two huge goals. Anytime we can create some space on that 4-on-4, with our skill, it's pretty to watch."
Wild coach Mike Yeo said, "Obviously they have a guy who is heavily involved in that stuff, and it is his intention to get us off our game and to try and stir those things up. In that situation, that benefitted them, that's for sure."
Forty seconds into the 4-on-4, Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin gained control of the puck in the neutral zone and built up speed into the Wild zone. His shot from the left circle was turned away by goalie Devan Dubnyk, but Ovechkin gathered his rebound in the slot and beat Dubnyk over his glove at 15:25.
"He cuts laterally and gets the rebound, corrals that and sticks it in ... that's just fantastic hands," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.
Ovechkin said, "We just use our skill. When we have structure and we know exactly what we have to do, it's working."
Seconds later, it was 2-0. Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov pick-pocketed Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin in front of his net and sent a quick shot past Dubnyk at 16:04.
"Being a dog on the puck and forcing a turnover," Trotz said. "We forced them to make a play under pressure and just picked it off."
Dubnyk said, "The guy just worked and made a turnover for himself and a good play. But that was the difference in the game."
Ovechkin's second goal 3:05 into the third period gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead. With a faceoff to Dubnyk's left, Nicklas Backstrom won it back to Ovechkin at the top of the circle. He didn't get all of it, but his low shot eluded Dubnyk for his NHL-leading 47th goal of the season.
"That's the guy they're looking for," Dubnyk said. "I was never able to get a beat on the puck when he whipped it through there. He's got a few that way."
Minnesota got its goals from defensemen, one from Christian Folin capping a 3-on-2 break, making it 2-1 with 9 seconds left in the second period.
Jared Spurgeon pinched toward the goal line and batted in a puck on a power play with 5:56 remaining in the third to make it 3-2. Thomas Vanek had the primary assist to push his season-high point streak to six games.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 28 saves in his 35th victory. Dubnyk made 24 saves.