- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Capitals moved a step closer to clinching their third straight Southeast Division title Wednesday night at Verizon Center, as Tomas Fleischmann’s goal with 1:40 left in overtime gave Washington a 4-3 win over Carolina. The victory means Washington might have a playoff spot locked up as soon as tomorrow night — with still a month left to play in the regular season.

With the win, the Caps picked up their 99th point of the season with 15 games still to play, and have eliminated all but Atlanta from the divisional race. But even if the Thrashers run the table and win out their remaining 17 games, they still can only reach the 100-point mark on the campaign — with Washington holding the tiebreaker — meaning any combination of a single Washington point or an Atlanta loss would earn Washington a top-three seed in the postseason.

Washington also holds a 15-point edge on Pittsburgh in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed, not to mention a six-point lead on Chicago and San Jose for the race for the President’s Trophy, which goes to the team with the most points in the regular season.

Facing a Hurricanes team that had won seven of their last eight games heading into the contest and desperate to gain ground in the playoff chase despite a horrible start to the season, the Caps got quite a battle from the last team to hand them a regulation loss on home ice.

But after Carolina rallied to erase two Washington leads — the second straight game the Caps have coughed up a two-goal lead — the Capitals were able to take control of the overtime session and win the third of four games on their current homestand (3-0-1), and now have recorded points in 21 of their last 22 games (18-1-3).

Mike Green also added a pair of goals for Washington, although he had an up-and-down night for the Caps, having a costly turnover that led to a Tuomo Ruutu goal in the second period that tied the game in the second period.

“He had two goals and a beautiful assist,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of his play afterwards. “But the assist was to the other team.”

Alexander Semin put the Caps on the board first, taking a nice bounce pass from Brendan Morrison off the dasher boards and then breaking in on Hurricanes goaltender Manny Legace and depositing a backhand past the netminder with just 2:24 gone in the contest for an early 1-0 Washington lead.

David Steckel nearly made it 2-0 just :23 later, but Legace came up with a nice stop in front of his cage on a similar move to Semin’s goal.

At the other end, Theodore came up with a nice save on a Ray Whitney chance in front with five minutes gone in the game, as Whitney snuck past the Washington defensemen but was denied by the netminder.

Shortly after, Tomas Fleischmann put the ‘Canes on the power play, as he was called for a trip at the 5:57 mark. However, unlike Monday’s dismal 0-for-2 penalty-killing performance agains the Stars, the Capitals were able to kill off the penalty without even allowing a shot on goal.

After the successful kill, Nicklas Backstrom had a good chance to deposit a rebound of an Alexander Ovechkin drive, but couldn’t quite hit the cage, and shortly after, David Steckel was called for holding for Carolina’s second straight power play. But, after a nice pair of efforts by Brooks Laich and Semin on the penalty-kill, Carolina’s Sergei Samsonov took a hooking penalty to end the second Hurricanes power play early.

After the Samsonov penalty expired, the Caps nearly cashed in on a bad Hurricanes turnover, as Eric Belanger turned on a poor clearing attempt and send it on net, and Laich had a chance to put in a rebound, but Legace came up with a sparkling glove save with just under four minutes left in the frame.

After Alexandre Picard was whistled for a penalty to put the Caps up a man, the Canes’ aggressive penalty killers nearly yielded a shorthanded goal. Brandon Sutter broke in on Theodore and was tripped up by Mike Green, earning a penalty shot with 2:19 left to play in the period. Sutter broke in and tried to fake out the Caps netminder, but Theodore held his ground and stopped Sutter’s shot.

The save proved to be a big one, as on the ensuing shift, the Capitals moved up ice and Green redeemed himself for his infraction by taking a Backstrom pass from the goal line and moving into the face-off circle and beating Legace with 2:01 to play.

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