- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Brooks Laich set a personal standard for goal-scoring excellence Thursday night. In the process, he helped the Washington Capitals achieve a new barometer for franchise success.

Laich had the first two goals in a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lighting at St. Pete Times Forum. With the win, Washington secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and fashioned a record for the most points in team history with 108.

“I wouldn't say we are the best team in [franchise] history, but it is a nice feather in our caps,” Laich said. “We are going to judge ourselves by what we go through… in the playoffs. We haven't been to the Stanley Cup Finals and one team did, so if we win the Cup we will have this discussion again.”

The previous record was 107 in the 1985-86 campaign. However, the 1985-86 team played only 80 games and didn't benefit from shootout wins or gain points in overtime losses. The Caps have collected seven extra points this season because of those two changes.

It was also Washington's 50th win of the season, which ties that same club for the most in the franchise's 35-year history.

“We were aware of the records,” said defenseman Mike Green, who added an empty-net goal in the final seconds. “That's a great benchmark for our team. It is good that it is over with now. We can't relax, but it is a little weight off our shoulders again, and we're definitely proud of our accomplishments.”

The Caps can break the record with a win in their regular-season finale Saturday at Florida.

As the No. 2 seed, Washington will face the seventh-place team in the conference - the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Rangers. That will not be decided until Sunday.

Steven Stamkos gave the Lightning their first lead of the season against Washington 36 seconds into the first period. Zenon Konopka dived to beat defenseman Brian Pothier to the puck, and his one-handed swipe sent it directly to Stamkos, who fired a one-timer from inside the right circle. Stamkos' 22 goals are the most by a rookie in Lighting history.

The Caps had only one shot in the first nine minutes - a clearing attempt from defenseman John Erskine while killing a penalty. But Tampa Bay was assessed a pair of penalties at 8:53, and Washington took advantage.

Laich tapped home a five-on-three goal at 9:19 for his 21st of the year. Nicklas Backstrom snapped a shot from a sharp angle off goalie Karri Ramo, and Laich was in position for the rebound.

Tampa Bay outshot Washington 12-6 in the first 20 minutes, and the Caps didn't register a shot on net at even strength.

“We started to get our legs - for whatever reason we didn't have them at the beginning,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought we controlled most of the play. We had chances, but we were just too cute below the circles.”

Laich set his personal best for a season with tally No. 22 to give Washington the lead. Mike Green carried the puck into the left corner before connecting with Laich, who snapped a shot into the top right corner at 5:37.

David Steckel made it a two-goal advantage 31 seconds later. Matt Bradley found Steckel in front of the net from below the goal line for his eighth of the season. Six of Steckel's 13 career goals have come against the Lightning.

Matt Pettinger scored his first goal against his former team and seventh of the season when Paul Szczechura's shot from just beyond the right circle hit his skate on the way to the net at 12:53 of the third period.

Caps goaltender Jose Theodore allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, but he stopped the next 20 attempts en route to his 32nd victory. Theodore is 9-2-1 in his past 12 starts.

Alex Ovechkin's bid to win a second consecutive Art Ross Trophy as the league's scoring leader took a hit because he was kept off the scoresheet. Ovechkin will enter his final game of his season four points behind Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

Washington also completed a season sweep of Tampa Bay. It was the team's 11th straight win against the Lightning, which ties a franchise record for consecutive wins against one team.

- Defenseman Tom Poti missed a second straight game because of a sore groin. …

This was the last NHL game for 32-year veteran referee Don Koharski, who is retiring. The other three officials also wore Koharski's No. 12 to honor him.

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