- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

This homestand hasn’t been about consistent, winning hockey for the Washington Capitals. But it has included plenty of third-period magic.

So the Capitals fall behind, then find a way in the final minutes to snatch a point. Maybe two. Thursday night, it was two in the most meaningful of situations, as they managed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime at Verizon Center to salvage the homestand and stay very much in the Southeast Division race.

“We felt coming into this game that it was going to be our season, and if we could get two points tonight, it was going to put us in a good spot to contend for a playoff spot here,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “If we weren’t able to get these two points, we’d be on the outside looking in, and a real tough place to get back in.”

Marcus Johansson supplied the magic with 3:58 left, as he cracked Lightning rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski to finish off a third period that seemed as if the ice was tilted in the Capitals‘ favor. Tomas Vokoun only saw three shots (to Washington’s 12) the entire period because his teammates woke up following a second-intermission berating from coach Dale Hunter.

“Just got to go out and work hard,” Hunter said with a wry smile. Karl Alzner said the message was to “man up” and play like a team.

The desired result came and Washington managed to crack Tampa Bay’s trap and force overtime.

“I think the work ethic in the third period was unbelievable,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored the game-winner in overtime. “I don’t think we play well in the second, and I think we just make only couple shots on net. … If we put puck in deep and get a chip and make a physical game, they going to tire in the end and you see what happened in the third.”

It wasn’t perfect for the Capitals, who might rue allowing Tampa Bay a point at all if it keeps up this furious, improbable playoff run. But in showing a legitimate push in the third period, Washington made it feel like old times.

“That’s what we used to be like,” Alzner said. “We come into the third period usually down and we kind of yell at each other a little bit and ask ourselves what we’re doing and just kind of throw everything we have at a time. Sometimes, I guess it takes them a little bit by surprise and guys just put the puck in the net.”

Players lamented not being able to play with such urgency the entire game. But what mattered was being able to pick up two points, especially on a night the division-leading Florida Panthers got waxed in Philadelphia and the chasing Buffalo Sabres lost in Boston. The Capitals ended Thursday night just two back of the Panthers.

“There’s guys breathing down your neck, and if you slip up one night, you can find yourself going from eighth to 11th in a matter of probably 48 hours, actually,” forward Brooks Laich said. “But it also works the other way; you have a couple days and you can move up. Just keep winning, man. That’s the name of the game: Just keep winning.”

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