Alexander Ovechkin scored two goals to continue his season-long success in Atlanta, and the last-place Capitals killed a late 6-on-3 advantage to beat the Thrashers 3-2 Wednesday.
Ovechkin's two goals gave him eight in four games in Atlanta this season.
"I hope this was a kick in the rear for us tonight," Atlanta's Keith Tkachuk said after the first-place Thrashers failed to extend their one-point lead over Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division.
Overall, Johnson stopped 30 shots and survived an Atlanta power play for the final 1:30, including a three-man advantage for the final 44.6 seconds. Washington's Brooks Laich drew a delay penalty at the 1:30 mark, and Milan Jurcina was penalized for slashing about 45 seconds later.
Atlanta pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen, but couldn't score despite the rare 6-on-3 opportunity after Jurcina's penalty.
"It was pretty frightening, especially when you're facing a team with their firepower," Johnson said.
"Six-on-three is rare. It hasn't happened often. It felt like there were nine guys out there (for Atlanta)."
The wasted power play only added to the Thrashers' frustration.
"When you have twice as many guys, you have to think you're going to score," Sutton said.
Boyd Gordon also scored for the Capitals, who won their second straight game after six straight losses, but remain last in the Southeast Division.
The first-place Thrashers visit Carolina on Friday and will face Tampa Bay in Atlanta on Saturday.
"We gave Tampa an opportunity to make that game mean something," Sutton said.
The Thrashers clinched their first playoff berth Sunday night.
Ovechkin, the second-year star, posted his only hat trick of the season at Atlanta on Dec. 15. His two-goal game Wednesday night was his second of the season in Atlanta.
"I like to play here," Ovechkin said. "I just like this place. ... It wasn't my best game, but it may have been the best one when we won."
Ovechkin "was sensational," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "For us, it's a character win."
Overall, in eight games against the Thrashers, Ovechkin has nine goals and five assists.
Gordon also scored in Washington's three-goal second period, when the Capitals recovered from a sluggish opening 20 minutes.
The Capitals managed only three shots on goal while trailing 1-0 after the first period. Kovalchuk scored at the 1:06 mark.
Though the Thrashers had only one goal, they appeared to be in control, having outshot the Capitals 10-3.
Instead, the Capitals scored three goals in the final 10:08 of the second period, drawing boos from Atlanta fans.
"They wanted the puck more," Sutton said. "You play like that in a critical game against a team that is not in the playoffs, you don't deserve to win."
Ovechkin's first goal came on a power-play shot from the left circle at the 13:35 mark. With only 43 seconds left in the period, he scored again unassisted from the right circle past Lehtonen's glove.
With Washington leading 3-1, Atlanta had a goal disallowed with less than eight minutes left when Eric Boulton was called for high-sticking.
Boulton was still in the box with his four-minute penalty when Sutton scored a short-handed goal on a breakaway with 4:28 left.
- Kovalchuk's goal was his 40th of the season and 200th of his career. He has five goals and seven assists in eight games against the Capitals this season.
- Ovechkin needs two goals in Washington's final game against Buffalo on Saturday to reach 100 for his two-year career. He is two points shy of 200.