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Washington Capitals take 3-0 lead, beat NJ Devils 5-2

Garnet Hathaway and Daniel Sprong scored in the opening 5:06, the streaking Washington Capitals built a big lead and held off the slumping New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday.

Lars Eller added the third goal in the big first period and Jabub Vrana gave the Capitals breathing room with a third-period breakaway tally. Rookie Vitek Vanecek had 22 saves in his ninth win.

Nic Dowd added an empty-net goal with less than a minute to play for Washington, 5-1-1 in its last seven after losing four straight.

Washington Capitals right wing Daniel Sprong (10) skates against New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP PhotoMary Altaffer)

Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha each scored for the second consecutive game for New Jersey, which has lost four of five. Mackenzie Blackwood had 19 saves as the Devils opened a five-game homestand.

The Capitals, who rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat New Jersey last Sunday, learned from that game and started fast.

Hathaway opened the scoring at 3:36, depositing a nice cross-ice pass by defenseman Justin Schultz into a wide-open net.

Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP PhotoMary Altaffer)

Sprong, who only got a chance to play because Evgeny Kuznetsov was out with an upper-body injury, deflected a point shot by Brenden Dillion past Blackwood at 5:06.

Eller scored in his second straight game, capping a 3-on-1 break. Conor Sheary used Alex Ovechkin as a decoy on the rush to set up the Dane's fourth goal of the season.

Hischier, who left the ice with 4:23 to play after being hit in the shield by a deflected power-play shot, got New Jersey back in the game in the final minutes of the first period, scoring from in close.

New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (13) skates against Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP PhotoMary Altaffer)

Zacha extended his scoring streak to nine games with a goal from between the circles in the second period with Vanecek playing without his stick.

Vanecek, playing in his 16th game, made at least three good saves early in the third period to keep Washington ahead. Vrana iced the game by beating Blackwood between the pads on his breakaway.

NOTES: The Devils presented C Travis Zajac a silver stick before the game for playing his 1,000th game last weekend. .... New Jersey reassigned D Connor Carrick from the taxi squad to Binghamton (AHL) and recalled D Matt Tennyson from Binghamton to the taxi squad. ... Caps D John Carlsson picked up two assists and is now three shy of 500 points.

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) skates against New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP PhotoMary Altaffer)

UP NEXT: The teams are back at the Prudential Center for a 3 p.m. game on Sunday.

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