- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

ATLANTA — Alex Ovechkin helped the Washington Capitals pilfer one point last night, but Kari Lehtonen made sure it wasn’t two.

Lehtonen made 39 saves and the stop he needed in the shootout to help the Atlanta Thrashers to a 3-2 shootout victory at Philips Arena.

“It seemed like we were going to get it there, but their goalie was outstanding,” Caps defenseman Mike Green said. “We can’t be happy with coming back because I thought we let ourselves go in the second period and they took off with it.”

Eric Perrin’s body-twisting maneuver and Slava Kozlov’s quick wrist shot both beat Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig in the shootout. After Alexander Semin’s attempt went wide, Lehtonen nabbed Boyd Gordon’s offering after it had bounced off his glove and was heading for the goal line to seal the victory.

It was Atlanta’s second win against Washington in 11 days and meant both teams pulled even with idle Carolina atop the Southeast Division with 60 points, though the Caps are technically in first place because they have a game in hand. The Florida Panthers, Washington’s opponent tomorrow night, lurk two points behind.

Ovechkin sent the game into overtime with his 48th goal of the season. He collected a backhanded pass from center Nicklas Backstrom, and his wrist shot solved Lehtonen with 1:21 remaining in the final period.

“That might have been Alex’s only clear shot all night,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They were pretty onto him, and he didn’t have a lot of good opportunities to score. I guess when you are a great player, you only need one.”

The Caps dominated the first period and much of the third, but the lapse in the middle period nearly cost them. The Caps got on the board first 2:56 into the second period, but the Thrashers clearly carried the play during the second session. Viktor Kozlov made the most of a fortuitous bounce for his 12th goal of the season.

Backstrom sent a pass to Ovechkin, who wound up for a slap shot. Former Caps defenseman Ken Klee got his stick in the way of Ovechkin’s release, and the puck kicked to the right. Viktor Kozlov was in the right spot to sweep it past an out-of-position Lehtonen.

Perrin made it 1-1 with his 10th of the season later in the period. Marian Hossa won a battle with defenseman John Erskine in the corner and sent the puck in front. Perrin was there to one-time it over Kolzig’s right shoulder at 16:29.

“They probably heard about [the first period] in the locker room, and we took our foot off the pedal a little bit,” Caps center David Steckel said.

Atlanta added one more before the second intermission. Lehtonen gloved Milan Jurcina’s shot from the left point, then astutely fired a perfect 110-foot pass to the opposite blue line, where Hossa was waiting behind a slow line change by the Caps.

Hossa skated in alone, faked a slap shot and went left to slide the puck under the goalie’s leg, faking out Kolzig in the process.

“Our guys stayed out way too long, and they didn’t have the energy to come back to the bench hard,” said Boudreau, referring to the line of Steckel (1:17 shift before the change), Matt Bradley (1:31) and Donald Brashear (1:27).

Kolzig made 26 saves, but Lehtonen’s brilliance overshadowed him. While the Caps have had some high shot total games with few quality chances in recent weeks, they had plenty of supreme opportunities last night.

“This game we made it a point to get guys to the net, and we had some good scoring chances,” Steckel said. “He made some great saves, but we just have to bury those next time.”

Notes — Captain Chris Clark (groin tendon) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) remained out of the lineup. …

The blue line corps took another hit when Tom Poti left the game late in the first period with a lower body injury. He is day-to-day, according to a team spokesman. Green logged a career-high 33:07 of ice time to help compensate for Poti’s absence.

Caps report

Last night at Philips Arena in Atlanta

QUOTABLE

“I really like this group and the guys. It is no secret I like the coach, too. With this team, I can feel like something is going on, and I want to be part of that.”

— Left wing Tomas Fleischmann on signing a contract extension

BY THE NUMBERS

12 Road victories for the Caps this season, which is more than they had all of last season.

Corey Masisak


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