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Capitals-Lightning Preview @NHLdotcom

The Washington Capitals' high-powered offense hasn't been at its best this month, but it won't matter if the team continues to play defense like it did in its most recent game.

Against the Tampa Bay Lightning lately, the Capitals haven't had problems at either end of the ice.

A victory in Tampa on Thursday night would be Washington's ninth straight against the Lightning, and the Capitals will continue their road trip with confidence after refusing to allow a shot on goal in the third period of their latest victory.

Led by the NHL's top goal scorer in Alex Ovechkin, Washington's offense has been among the best in the league this season, averaging 3.17 goals.

But while that unit has scored two or fewer goals six times in nine games this month, goalie Jose Theodore and the Capitals' defense have emerged, giving up one or fewer goals in three of the last five as the team has gone 4-1-0 over that span.

One game after getting pulled from a 5-1 loss at Atlanta, Theodore made 19 saves for his second shutout of the season in Tuesday night's 3-0 win at Florida. None of his stops came in the third, when Washington outshot the Panthers 7-0 and scored twice to seal the victory.

"I thought the defense as a whole played as good as I've seen them play all year," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "To hold them to zero shots in the third period and 19 in their building in a game that they had to win was quite a testament."

The Capitals (44-22-6) need to continue to win if they want to pass Boston and New Jersey for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and three remaining games on the schedule with Tampa Bay (23-32-15) could help.

Washington has outscored the Lightning 16-7 in three victories this season, including 5-1 at the St. Pete Times Forum on Feb. 14. Tampa Bay last beat its Southeast Division rival Nov. 16, 2007, dropping eight straight since and allowing four or more goals in each of the last five.

Theodore has not faced the Lightning since joining the Capitals. He made 32 saves for Colorado in a 3-0 win in his last visit to Tampa on Jan. 15, 2008.

In the midst of a five-game trip, the Capitals have won six of their last seven on the road, while Tampa Bay has lost four straight (0-2-2) and seven of eight (1-4-3) at home.

The crowd often seemed in favor of Toronto when the Lightning opened a four-game homestand with a 4-3 shootout loss Tuesday night. They led 3-0 going into the final minute of the second period, but were outshot 14-6 in the third as they coughed up the lead.

"Toronto outplayed us the last half of the game," coach Rick Tocchet told the Lightning's official Web site. "They deserved to win, bottom line. It shows how far our team still needs to go."

Karri Ramo, who took the loss, has played the bulk of the minutes in net lately as Tampa Bay searches for a solution with starter Mike Smith still sidelined following a concussion.

Ramo has a 3.65 goals-against average in 17 appearances, while the Lightning's 3.17 GAA ranks 28th in the league.

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