- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

SUNRISE, Fla. — Rookie forward Kamil Kreps has found success against the Washington Capitals this season, but his good fortune reached a new level last night.

Kreps notched the game-winner on a bad-angle goal and Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves to help the Florida Panthers to a 4-2 win at BankAtlantic Center.

The 23-year-old rookie from the Czech Republic scored his fifth goal of the season — third in six games against the Caps — midway through the third period. He retrieved the puck behind the cage to the left of Caps goalie Brent Johnson and tried to wrist it in front. Defenseman John Erskine tired to poke at the puck, but it still hit Johnson’s left skate and trickled into the back of the net.

“That third one was the killer,” Johnson said. “The [original] shot hit the side of the net. I saw [Erskine] behind the net and I was eyeing the puck. I didn’t see the guy coming from the front because I could have played it. I think it just hit [Erskine’s] stick and deflected in off of me.”

It was the second straight loss for the Caps during a critical three-game road trip against division opponents.

While the Caps remain in the middle of a congested Southeast Division race, they have been inconsistent of late. Since a four-game winning streak last month, Washington has lost six of its past 11 games (5-5-1).

The loss also allowed the Panthers to pull even with the Caps at 60 points — two behind Atlanta and Carolina.

The final game of this trip is tonight in Tampa. The Lightning are 4-0-1 in their last five games and despite being in last place in the Eastern Conference for much of the past month are within four points of the Caps and Panthers.

Florida benefited from Washington mistakes on its first two goals.

Panthers forward Rostislav Olesz’s first shot from the left wing headed toward the side of the net, but Johnson stopped it anyway. The rebound kicked into the slot and Olesz went around defenseman Milan Jurcina to collect it and backhand the puck past a scrambling Johnson for a 1-0 lead 5:52 into the opening period.

Johnson said Alexander Semin, who later scored the team’s first goal, lost an edge and fell into him while he tried to get back into position.

A bad turnover in his own zone by defenseman Mike Green led to the Panthers’ second goal. David Booth collected the giveaway along the right wall and sent a diagonal pass to Stephen Weiss in front of the net. Weiss slid a cross-crease pass to Nathan Horton for the goal at 3:57 of the final period.

“The puck kind of bobbled up — a [bad, bad] bounce — and I just swatted at it,” Green said. “[I] panicked maybe a little bit and they had three guys in the zone. It happens, but it shouldn’t.”

Tomas Fleischmann had given the Caps their first lead 57 seconds into the third period. He sneaked a wrist shot from between the circles past Vokoun with the help of a screen for his seventh goal of the season.

“I just went in the middle and tried to shoot over his glove and it went in,” said Fleischmann, who had two points while playing on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. “I felt good. Playing with those two guys is unbelievable.”

Booth added an empty-netter with 47.9 seconds left to seal the victory.

“I thought we were in pretty good shape when we were up 2-1,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought Mike [Green] was very lackadaisical on the second goal. The third goal was a shot from behind the net. Even the empty-net goal, we gave it right to them. We put it right on their stick.

“For the most part, we beat ourselves.”

Notes — Defenseman Tom Poti did not play because of what is being called a lower body injury. He left the game in Atlanta on Wednesday night in the first period with the injury. The Caps are now 3-7 this season when he is not in the lineup. …

Defenseman Sami Lepisto was recalled from Hershey for the second time this week. He joined the team yesterday afternoon after playing for the Bears the night before in Cleveland and participated in warm-ups but did not dress.

Caps report

Last night at BankAtlantic Center:

By the numbers

19Years since the top goal-scoring forward and defenseman were on the same team (Mario Lemieux and Paul Coffey in 1988-89). Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are on pace to do so.

18Years since a team had two of the past three Calder Trophy winners (Joe Nieuwendyk and Sergei Makarov for Calgary) — Nicklas Backstrom could make it two in three years for the Caps.

Prospect Update

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth has struggled a bit with Oshawa after he was traded for the second time in the OHL this season.

Neuvirth, the Caps’ second-round pick in the 2006 draft, is 4-2 but has a 4.33 goals against average — more than double his 2.12 GAA with Windsor before the deal — and an .866 save percentage in seven games for the Generals.

He has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts, though he did stop 45 of 49 shots in his most recent outing.

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