WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals right winger Joel Ward grew up in the Toronto neighborhood of Scarborough, dreaming someday of playing in the NHL.
On Friday night against the Maple Leafs, Ward had a flair for the dramatic, scoring a go-ahead power-play goal with 8:09 remaining in regulation to give the Capitals a 3-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 18,506 at the Verizon Center.
Right winger Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom also scored for the Capitals, but it was goaltender Michal Neuvirth who received the most attention after the game. Playing for the first time since Nov. 22, the 25-year-old turned aside 32 of 34 shots for his first victory since Nov. 2.
Left winger James van Riemsdyk and right winger Phil Kessel, each of whom will represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, scored for the Maple Leafs, who lost for the fourth straight time.
The Leafs have just two regulation wins in their last 25 games.
Before facing the Capitals, the Maple Leafs had surrendered 18 goals in three straight losses, putting pressure on coach Randy Carlyle to turn things around.
After a scoreless first period, Ovechkin opened the scoring with his 32nd goal of the season at 6:39 of the second period. Former Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski feathered a perfect cross-ice feed for Ovechkin, who leads the NHL in goals.
The Leafs tied it 2:29 later on van Riemsdyk's redirect of Kessel's shot, giving van Riemsdyk his 16th goal of the season.
The Leafs grabbed their first lead of the game 54 seconds into the third period when Kessel beat Neuvirth high short side for his 21st goal of the season.
Backstrom knotted the score 2-2 at 4:36 when he stripped Toronto defenseman Cody Franson of the puck behind the net and then banked a pass intended for teammate Brooks Laich off the skate of Leafs defenseman Jay McClement for his 11th goal of the season.
The Capitals entered the game with the No. 1 power play in the NHL and the Maple Leafs were ranked 27th on the penalty kill.
Those numbers worked in Washignton's favor midway through the third period when Ward positioned himself in the high slot took a pass from center Marcus Johansson and pounded a shot through the pads of Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier for his 13th goal of the season.
NOTES: The Capitals and Maple Leafs entered the game as two of the loosest defensive teams in the NHL, with Washington allowing 34.3 shots per game (29th in the NHL) and Toronto allowing 36.4 (30th). The previous time the two teams met, the Capitals attempted 101 shots, 50 of them reaching the net. ... Capitals G Michal Neuvirth was making his first start since Nov. 22, a span of 20 games. Last month, his agent asked that the Capitals trade the 25-year-old. Rookie G Philipp Grubauer, who stopped 33 shots in a 4-3 win in Tampa on Thursday night, was a healthy scratch. G Braden Holtby served as a backup. ... NOTES: The Capitals and Maple Leafs entered the game as two of the loosest defensive teams in the NHL, with Washington allowing 34.3 shots per game (29th in the NHL) and Toronto allowing 36.4 (30th). The previous time the two teams met the Capitals attempted 101 shots, 50 of them reaching the net. ... Capitals G Michal Neuvirth was making his first start since Nov. 22, a span of 20 games. Last month his agent asked that the Capitals trade the 25-year-old. Rookie G Philipp Grubauer, who stopped 33 shots in a 4-3 win in Tampa Thursday night, was a healthy scratch, while G Braden Holtby served as a backup. ... Capitals C Mikhail Grabovski played 340 games for Toronto before they bought him out and the Capitals signed him last summer. ... Capitals D Mike Green entered the game with four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last four games and was one goal from his 100th in the NHL. ... The Capitals continue their three-game homestand Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres. They conclude the home stretch on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks. ... The Maple Leafs return home to face the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, then visit the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.