Friday, March 24, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — Such is the Washington Capitals’ fate this season: Even when they play well, a victory isn’t guaranteed.

Last night was a prime example; the Caps put up one of their best performances of the season, one worthy of a playoff contender, but still wound up losing their eighth straight game. Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina scored 37 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 Lightning victory.

It was a hard-fought, physical game, one Tampa Bay never led until Kubina sliced a screened shot past Olie Kolzig 37 seconds into the extra period. Kubina was instrumental in knocking Washington out of the playoffs a few years back, a run that brought the long-suffering Lightning to the top.

Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist to give him 89 points on the season, moving him into a tie for seventh place with Mike Ridley on the Caps’ all-time single-season scoring ladder. Ovechkin, who had a career-high 13 shots in last night’s game, now has 46 goals and 43 assists with 13 games left in the season.

Tampa Bay coach John Tortorellacq called a team meeting yesterday to go over ways for the Lightning to defend the rookie left wing. But Ovechkin was everywhere, playing with extra time awarded him by coach Glen Hanlon and popping up in places the Lightning had not envisioned.

“That animal Ovechkin is back up the ice” with every turnover, Tortorella said after the game, saying he was disappointed in his team’s sloppy effort. He worried such lapses might cost the Lightning down the road but took nothing away from the game the Caps played.

Neither did Hanlon, who marveled at the way his team came back after a poor outing in a 3-2 loss at Florida the previous night.

“I feel for the team,” he said about a good effort that came up short. “There was nothing to be ashamed of. We keep telling our players to have good memories. We keep working like this, and our time will come for our young kids, and we’ll win these games. The hardest thing for us is to keep on challenging and playing that hard.”

Ovechkin scored first and last for the Caps with Matt Pettinger netting his 17th in between (he also had an outstanding fight with Vincent Lecavalier). Ovechkin, who drew thunderous boos from the capcity crowd, at times looked like a man trying to get through a minefield, dancing and jerking his way back and forth, avoiding defenders en route to the goal.

“I feel pretty good today,” Ovechkin said. “I try to do what Coach said — how I must play to attack and how I must play in defensive zone. Today I have great chance to score goals. In first period I just missed [a second]. I feel very comfortable today, I don’t feel pressure if I have puck. I feel like I can do something, so I take the puck, I carry the puck, I go to the zone, I make some moves — I feel pretty good.”

Ryan Craig tied the game with about seven minutes left in regulation for the Lightning. Officials originally credited Lecavalier but later awarded the score to Craig after Lecavalier said he did not get his stick on the puck. Dan Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko scored the other goals for Tampa Bay.

Notes — Defenseman Bryan Muir was back on the ailing list yesterday, apparently not completely over the flu. That meant the Caps, carrying only one spare skater, had no healthy scratches.

Having Muir on the sideline may explain why the defensive pairing of Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn, joined amid fanfare March 18, was broken up. Eminger was reunited with Jamie Heward, while Morrisonn skated with Ivan Majesky.

The Caps will practice in Tampa, Fla., this afternoon before taking a charter to Raleigh, N.C., for a game tomorrow night against the Hurricanes. Of the next seven games the Caps play, five are against Carolina with only two of them at home.

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