By STEPHEN WHYNO AP Hockey Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin scored the overtime winner in his return, Vitek Vanecek made 40 saves in his sixth consecutive start, and the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 Saturday night in a showdown between the top teams in the NHL’s East Division.

Ovechkin beat Tuukka Rask clean off the rush 28 seconds into OT in his first game since Jan. 19. The Capitals captain missed the past four games because of COVID-19 protocols.

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Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, Trevor van Riemsdyk scored his first since joining the Capitals and Richard Panik added one on the power play. Washington blew a three-goal lead by allowing goals to Nick Ritchie, Brad Marchand and then Charlie McAvoy with 57.3 seconds left in regulation.

The Capitals are unbeaten in regulation at 6-0-3 and extended their franchise-best point streak to start a season to nine games.

Former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara played almost 21 minutes in his first game against his old team, which didn’t see him as a full-time player at age 43. Chara — who doesn’t wear a visor — took a puck to the face late in the first period but returned for the second and didn’t miss a shift.

Boston outshot Washington 43-23 despite playing without injured wingers Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. David Pastrnak, who tied Ovechkin for the most goals in the league last season, made his season debut following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.

Rask allowed three goals on the first 12 shots he faced and finished with 19 saves. The Capitals beat the Bruins for the 17th time in 19 regular-season games dating to 2015.

CHARA VS. BRUINS

This was the first time Chara faced the Bruins since April 11, 2006, as a member of the Ottawa Senators. The 2011 Stanley Cup-winning captain is still revered by his former teammates, especially those who played with him the past 14 years.

“It starts with his drive and competitiveness,” new Boston captain Patrice Bergeron said. “He never takes a shift off or a practice off, really. That’s why he’s been around for so long and he’s been so successful.”

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OVECHKIN ACCEPTS PUNISHMENT

Ovechkin only missed four or more games in a season twice in his first 15 years in the NHL. He missed these four because he joined his three fellow Russian teammates unmasked in a hotel room, which is a violation of the league’s pandemic protocols.

“It is a situation when rules are rules, right?” Ovechkin said. “It sucks, obviously. No one wants to be suspended; no one wants to put yourself in that position. But you know it’s over, so you learn from it and move forward.”

KUZNETSOV, SAMSONOV STILL OUT

While Ovechkin and defenseman Dmitry Orlov were removed from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list Saturday, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov remained on it. Orlov skated with the team but missed a fifth consecutive game.

Coach Peter Laviolette did not have an update on when Kuznetsov or Samsonov might be cleared to skate or play.

UP NEXT

These teams face off again Monday night for the second of eight meetings this season.

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