- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

Skating at Verizon Center for the first time in nearly a month, Washington picked up where they left off after the Olympic break with a 5-4 win over Tampa Bay Thursday night, marking their club-record 12th straight home win thanks to an 11th-hour traded player.

Scott Walker, who was acquired from Carolina at Wednesday’s trade deadline, scored two goals in his first game as a Capital — including the team’s last two goals in the contest — during a wild third period where the two teams traded four goals in a three-minute span.

But thanks to Walker — along Mike Knuble’s pair of goals earlier in the contest — Washington held off several Tampa Bay comeback attempts to grab the victory.

Opening a five-game homestand with their first home game since beating the Penguins back on Feb. 7, the Caps had three new faces in the lineup, as newly-acquired Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo and Walker suited up for Washington for the first time.

The newest Caps also had some good chances during the contest, as Walker got the deciding two third-period goals and Belanger also created some scoring opportunites after a bit of a rough start, while Corvo had a nice hit to open the game as well as getting time with Mike Green on the top power-play unit.

“Sometimes I caught myself thinking a little bit, but it’s a learning process and the guys on the bench, [Boyd Gordon] was great, [Jason] Chimera was awesome,” Walker said afterwards. “They helped me out a lot because that’s what you need when you are the new guy coming to the bench.”

“I think they fit in [well],” Nicklas Backstrom said of his new teammates. “Scott Walker scored two right away. He had a good start … We’ve got a great group of guys. The new players fit in [well,] even if there are a lot of trades going on. … We’re building a good team.”

Thanks to the win, the Capitals pushed their NHL-leading point total to 94, and are closing in on clinching their third consecutive Southeast Division title — which could happen by the time the homestand ends and the team heads to Chicago in 10 days for a nationally-televised game against the Blackhawks.

The Capitals were sloppy out of the gate, allowing the Lighting some good chances on Semyon Varlamov early. Varlamov, who was making his first outing since getting criticized by coach Bruce Boudreau in a loss to Ottawa on Feb. 11 — which is Washington’s only regulation loss in their last 19 games (16-1-2).

But Eric Fehr got Washington in front with a nice individual effort, as he intercepted a bad Lightning clearing attempt at center ice, then moved into the Tampa Bay zone and then rifled the puck just inside the top corner of the net for a 1-0 Washington lead with 6:10 gone. The goal had a delayed reaction from players and fans as it originally appeared to hit the crossbar, but the referee and replay confirmed the puck did cross the goal line before coming back out of the cage.

The tally shifted momentum Washington’s way, and the Caps put some good chances on Tampa netminder Mike Smith in the ensuing minutes.

Walker nearly made it 2-0 just over a minute later when he couldn’t quite corral a puck Smith mishandled in front of his own net, but Washington got their first power-play chance of the night on the ensuing faceoff. Alex Ovechkin make a strong bid for his 43rd goal of the season by one-timing a pass, but Smith was able to come up with the save and keep the Lightning down just one despite the flurry.

Thanks to Smith’s strong play early, Tampa Bay was able to tie the game after a Knuble hooking penalty left Washington short-handed, as Steve Downie was left all alone in front of Varlamov and he tipped a Kurtis Foster drive past the Caps’ netminder with 8:05 left in the period.

Washington did get a nice chance to retake the lead in the period’s final minute as Belanger bid on his first goal as a Cap, but was stopped and the score stayed 1-1 after 20 minutes.

The Caps opened up the second period with a flurry, and regained the lead 2:27 into the period, as Knuble converted on a Brooks Laich feed to restore the lead for Washington.

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