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Capitals, already Southeast champs, face Lightning

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (27-27-12) at CAPITALS (45-13-9)

Last 10:
Tampa Bay 3-6-1; Washington 6-1-3

Season series: Fifth of six meetings this season between these Southeast Division rivals. The Capitals have won 14 of their last 15 meetings with the Lightning, including 5-4 in the most recent matchup on March 4, with Scott Walker scoring a pair of third-period goals. Antero Niittymaki was in net and Steven Stamkos scored twice in Tampa Bay's lone victory on Jan. 12. Stamkos leads all players in the series with five goals. Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr have three goals apiece for Washington.

Big story:
The Capitals clinched the Southeast Division on Thursday without having to take the ice. They lead the Lightning and Thrashers by a whopping 33 points, with each of those teams having 16 games left in the regular season. Of course, Tampa's focus all along has been simply on making the playoffs, and time is running short there as well, with a six-point deficit to make up on eighth-seeded Boston.

Team Scope:

Six losses in seven games has left Tampa teetering on the edge of the playoff race. In a seesaw affair Thursday night in Toronto, the Lightning led 1-0 after 20 minutes, Stamkos netting his 42nd of the season, then rallied from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to force overtime and guarantee themselves a point. But that was all they would get, as a Phil Kessel goal with 1:27 left in the extra period sent them to a damaging 4-3 loss. Boston gained a point in the race for eighth by winning in Philadelphia.

"We play hard, but hard's not good enough right now," forward Martin St. Louis said. "For us it's about results right now and we just can't seem to find that."

The most recent game for Washington was also back and forth in nature, as Carolina came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force Wednesday's game at the Verizon Center into overtime. But as they have so many times this season, the Capitals found a way to pull it out in the end. Tomas Fleischmann played hero on this occasion, scoring off an Eric Belanger feed with 1:40 remaining for a 4-3 victory.

"He made a nice pass," Fleischmann said. "I didn't hit it all, but I just hit it with the heel and it just went in."

Who's hot:
Stamkos carries an 18-game points streak and a seven-game goal-scoring streak into Friday. He has 17 goals and 16 assists during the points streak. Steve Downie is enjoying a breakout season for Tampa, with six goals and 10 assists in his last 15 games. St. Louis has 11 goals and 15 assists in his last 15 games.

Ovechkin has two goals and two assists in Washington's last two games, giving him a League-leading 94 points. Mike Green has five goals and 11 assists in the last 12 games, and leads all defensemen in goals (17), assists (49) and points (66).

Injury report:
Lightning forward Zenon Konopka is expected to miss about a week with back spasms, while defenseman David Hale is on injured reserve with a broken leg. … Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to sports hernia surgery.

Stat pack:
Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov has won both of his starts against Tampa Bay this season, including a 3-0 shutout on Dec. 7 in which he stopped 26 shots. … Stamkos is just two goals behind Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh for the League lead.

Puck drop:
After making a number of deals at the trade deadline and acquiring players such as Walker, Belanger and Joe Corvo, the Capitals' roster is so loaded that coach Bruce Boudreau has had to rotate players in and out. That led to Fleischmann, who has 19 goals and 46 points in 55 games this season, being a healthy scratch on Monday against Dallas.

"It's a little message," he said of getting the OT goal in his return to action. "Don't sit me out again."

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