- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. — Tomas Fleischmann wasn’t even supposed to be on the ice, but he scored the biggest goal of his NHL career.

Fleischmann put a one-timer into an open net on a pass from Brooks Laich with 2:33 left in overtime, and the Washington Capitals overcame another sluggish performance to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime in front of 17,777 at St. Pete Times Forum.

The 23-year-old Czech Republic native hadn’t scored a goal since Feb. 16 or a point since Feb. 26.

“Sometimes you have to wait for the big ones,” Fleischmann said. “We still believe. We still believe we can make the playoffs, so that’s the big point of our push every night.”

Normally Fleischmann would not be on the ice during overtime. Viktor Kozlov blocked a shot late in the third period and was unable to join his normal forward partner Laich for the 4-on-4 period, so Caps coach Bruce Boudreau tabbed Fleischmann to replace him.

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  • Defenseman Mike Green was at the end of a long shift, but he carried the puck into the zone and behind the net. He fell down and a scrum ensued. Green whacked at the puck, and it went out in front of the cage. Tampa Bay goaltender Karri Ramo tried to dive for the puck, but Laich was there to slide it to Fleischmann for the game-winner.

    “Basically I was swimming there for a while trying to get it, but I finally got a piece of it,” Green said.

    The goal set off another jubilant celebration for the Caps, who were able to escape with two points against the worst team in the Eastern Conference. The win helps the Caps keep pace with the Boston Bruins, who eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from playoff contention with a win last night.

    Washington is now two points back of both Boston and Philadelphia for the final two postseason berths in the Eastern Conference with four games left on its schedule. The Caps are also within two points of Carolina for the Southeast Division lead, but all three of the teams Washington is chasing have an extra game to play.

    “We’re in a dogfight right now,” Laich said. “Unfortunately Boston won, but we didn’t lose any ground. I think other teams know we’re coming. … We’re desperate, and we’re hungry. It is a great time to play right now.”

    Alexander Semin helped the Caps reach overtime with his 24th goal of the season with 4:48 remaining in the third. Sergei Fedorov won a faceoff in the Tampa Bay zone back to Semin.

    Fedorov also set up the Caps’ first goal. He feathered a pass between two defenders to Laich while short-handed, and Laich deked to his backhand before coming back to his forehand to lift a shot past Ramo with 2:02 left in the first period.

    It was Laich’s 20th goal of the season.

    “He’s still got it I guess, eh?” Laich said of Fedorov. “[It was] a real strong game for Feds.”

    Just before the goal, Washington goalie Cristobal Huet robbed Vincent Lecavalier with a lunging save after Shaone Morrisonn had thrown the puck in front of his own net from along the boards. The sloppy pass was indicative of the way the Caps played for long stretches.

    Former Caps forward Jeff Halpern scored just 42 seconds after Laich’s goal on a rebound to make it 1-1. The Lightning went ahead 3-2 in the third period after Mathieu Darche beat Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina to the puck to nullify an icing infraction and then fed Michel Ouellet for a one-timer at 6:51.

    With the win in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday night as the exception, it was the fourth time in five games the Caps did not play as well as they hoped.

    “I don’t think we had very much jump, and we looked a little tired,” Boudreau said. “It was a mentally tough game, but we found a way, and that’s all that counts right now.”

    Notes — Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle was cut in the throat by Green’s skate during the final scrum of the game, but he did not need any stitches. Boyle missed 45 games this season after a skate fell in his dressing room stall and cut his wrist after a preseason game against the Caps. …

    Caps defenseman John Erskine returned to the lineup after missing six games with an upper body injury.

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