- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. — The Washington Capitals were on the verge of a devastating collapse last night, but Alexander Semin rescued them.

Semin scored with three minutes left in the third period to propel the Caps to a critical 3-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum.

“I don’t want over-anything about it, but you can’t deny the heart and character of these guys,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The last couple years the one thing the Washington Capitals were known for was their work ethic. Now we add the believe-ability that we can win and it is a hard combination to overcome.”

David Steckel gave the Caps a two-goal advantage with 6:08 left on a 2-on-1 feed from Matt Bradley. It was Steckel’s fifth of the season — and fourth in six games against the Lightning.

Then things got crazy.

Vinny Prospal threw the puck toward the net from near the goal line and it careened in off Washington goaltender Olie Kolzig to cut the Caps lead in half with 4:11 remaining. Jan Hlavac tied it 33 seconds later when he redirected a slap shot from Tampa Bay defenseman Filip Kuba.

With the Forum crowd in a frenzy, Semin answered in a hurry. He backhanded in the rebound from a Viktor Kozlov shot 38 seconds later for his 16th of the season. Semin now has 10 goals and five assists in the past 17 games.

After a flurry of three goals in 71 seconds, the Caps slowed the pace a bit and preserve a much-needed victory. With the win, Washington finished a three-game road trip against Southeast Division opponents with half of the available points (1-1-1).

The Caps (62 points) also kept pace with division-leading Carolina (64), who defeated Florida 5-4 last night.

“I’m very proud of our resolve…. That’s our saying, ‘Don’t ever leave our games early,’ ” Kolzig said.

The momentary lapse did not diminish another fine performance by Kolzig. He made 39 saves and is now 11-3-2 since Christmas. Kolzig has allowed a total of 10 goals in his past five starts.

The second 20 minutes was a frenetic back-and-forth affair with few whistles and plenty of chances for both teams. Kolzig saw 24 shots in the period, including seven during a Lightning power play at the end of the period, but he turned them all aside.

“It was the fastest second period I think I’ve ever experienced,” Kolzig said. “This is our third game in four nights and we’re a little tired and banged up. I know we got it done.”

Tomas Fleischmann put the Caps on the board first with his second goal in as many nights. Semin carried the puck into the Lightning zone on a 2-on-1 on the power play with Nicklas Backstrom but opted against shooting or passing.

Instead he circled near the goal line to the left of Tampa Bay goalie Johan Holmqvist, waited and slipped a no-look pass through the crease to a cutting Fleischmann, who scored his eighth of the season with a backhanded flip at 16:12 of the first period.

“Times are good for me out there,” Fleischmann said.

With defenseman Tom Poti still out of the lineup, Sami Lepisto made his NHL debut.

The 23-year-old rookie from Espoo, Finland, was the Caps’ third-round pick the 2004 draft and is the fifth member of that class (along with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Chris Bourque) to play for the Caps.

Lepisto, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds, was paired with Schultz and acquitted himself well. He logged 14:16 of ice time and displayed the smooth skating and ability to make quality outlet passes that has made the organization high on the offensive-minded rearguard.

“He didn’t seem fazed at all by playing in front of 21,000 people,” Boudreau said. “In a [fast]-paced game like that, he was making plays and played within himself. He was very good.”

Caps report

Last night at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.

QUOTABLE

“This is a very important game to us. It is not about being fair. If Alex [Ovechkin] has to play 33 minutes tonight to win the game, we’re going to play him 33 minutes.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau

BY THE NUMBERS

23.7 Average age of the six active Caps defensemen last night

13 Goals for Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier in his past 14 games against the Caps, including none last night.

Corey Masisak


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