Capitals-Lightning Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 18, 2012
After beating one Southeast Division rival, the Washington Capitals have a chance to claim a share of first place if they can defeat another. The Capitals will try to take advantage of a struggling Tampa Bay Lightning defense and earn their first win at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in nearly a year Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin scored third-period goals to rally Washington to a 2-1 win over division-leading Florida on Friday. Tomas Vokoun also made 22 saves against his former team while returning from illness. "A big game, I was a little nervous, too," said Vokoun, who played for Florida from 2007-2011. "It's not easy playing back where I played last year, and we're chasing them. But I settled in and obviously a great finish by our guys." The victory moved Washington (29-23-5) within two points of the Panthers, who are idle until Sunday. The Capitals are also currently one point behind eighth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference, but the Maple Leafs will be playing Saturday in Vancouver. "We're encouraging guys to pay attention to the standings. We want to know what the deal is every night," forward Mike Knuble said. "The good thing is it's early enough that we can still play our way in there by winning some games." The Capitals helped themselves a little during their previous matchup with Tampa Bay on Jan. 31 by rallying from a 3-1 deficit to force overtime. Lightning star Steven Stamkos, though, gave his team a 4-3 home win by scoring 2:45 into the extra period. Washington leads the season series 2-0-1, but hasn't prevailed in Tampa since March 7. The Capitals' three straight defeats there include two when the Lightning swept the conference semifinals. Like Washington, Tampa Bay (25-26-6) is in a fight to return to the playoffs but has more of an uphill climb - the Lightning are currently 12th and eight points behind Toronto. They haven't helped themselves by being outscored 21-14 over a 2-3-1 stretch but avoided a third straight defeat Thursday with a 6-5 overtime win over visiting San Jose. Martin St. Louis found the net twice to end a five-game drought, including the game-winner with 33 seconds left in the extra period. Stamkos matched his career high for points with two goals and two assists. That game took place not long after center Dominic Moore's trade to San Jose for a second-round pick. The team is also attempting to deal veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina and planning to keep him out of the lineup. "If we throw in the towel because of what's going on around us, it's going to be a pretty miserable last two months," St. Louis said. "I think we have enough character here we can build on (the win over San Jose)." Mathieu Garon will try to help during his return to the net, but he's allowed a combined seven goals in consecutive defeats. Garon is 3-1-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average in eight career games against Washington and made 26 saves during last month's overtime win. The Capitals could stick with Vokoun, who is 6-0-2 with a 2.41 GAA in his last eight versus Tampa Bay. Michal Neuvirth had a 3.74 GAA during last year's playoff series. Stamkos has 298 career points in 300 games and goals in consecutive matchups with Washington. The Capitals' Troy Brouwer has a team-best five goals versus Tampa, including his only career hat trick during a 4-3 win Jan. 13.
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