|Alexander Ovechkin scored twice to pass Luc Robataille's record for most goals by a left wing in a season and in the process, hoisted the Capitals into the 8th playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay,
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made NHL history — and helped the Washington Capitals
move into the top eight in the Eastern Conference in the process.
With chants of “MVP” cascading from the sellout crowd of 18,277 at the Verizon Center, No. 8 broke Luc Robitaille’s single-season record for goals by a left wing with his 64th when he tied the game 12:01 into the first period, then scored the go-ahead goal with 12:10 remaining in the game as the Caps went on to a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
''As a whole, we were a little nervous,'' Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Caps had to outlast the last-place team in the Eastern Conference. ''It's getting down to the nitty-gritty, you know.''
The victory gives the Capitals 92 points, tying them with Boston for the last two playoff spots in the East, one point ahead of Philadelphia. The Caps have one more win than the Bruins, but Boston and Philadelphia both have a game in hand. The Caps also pulled even with Carolina atop the Southeast Division, but the Hurricanes own the division lead because they have 43 wins to Washington’s 42.
"We haven't gotten anywhere yet," Boudreau said. "We're in the same position we were in two weeks, two months ago and it comes down to one day. Hopefully, if we win, it's in our hands. The guys have played so hard and I just want them to get rewarded.”
Washington finishes its season Saturday night at home against Florida. The Caps can finish first with a win if Carolina loses at home Friday night against Florida, and can beat out the Bruins and/or Flyers with a victory unless the Flyers and Bruins win both of their remaining games.
''It's a good time for us right now,'' Ovechkin said. ''We have a chance, and we have to keep it going.''
The red-clad fans were still settling into their seats when the Lightning took a 1-0 lead. Defenseman Filip Kuba quieted the crowd by scoring 39 seconds into the game after the Caps couldn’t control a rebound.
It appeared Washington had tied the game less than 90 seconds later when Brooks Laich beat Karri Ramo, but the goal was waved off because Washington’s Tomas Fleischman was judged to have bumped defenseman Matt Smaby into Ramo — who was outside the crease — triggering a call of inadvertent goaltender interference. No penalty was called but the goal was wiped out.
Ovechkin evened the score for real later in the period after Viktor Kozlov drove to the crease on a 2-on-2 break. The puck came loose and deflected off defenseman Alexandre Picard's skate and into the net. Kozlov was initially credited with the goal before replays showed Ovechkin got his stick on it before it hit the skate. That was his 64th goal, breaking the mark for left wings set by Robitaille with Los Angeles in 1992-93.
Ramo stopped the Caps’ other 19 shots in the opening period and kept Washington off the board until Ovechkin ripped a drive from the top of the left circle just under the crossbar for his 65th of the season and 22nd on the power play.
“He really turns it up when the game's on the line,'' Laich said.
Boyd Gordon put in a rebound with 3:17 remaining and Tom Poti flipped a 160-footer into an empty net with 1:08 left.
The Capitals have won six in a row — their longest winning streak since Jan. 8-19, 2000 — and 10 of their last 11. They also notched their 17th comeback victory under coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over a last-place team when Glen Hanlon was fired on Nov. 22.
Cristobal Huet made 18 saves for his eighth straight win, the longest streak for a Capitals goalie since Pete Peeters won nine in a row from Jan. 28 to March 3, 1987. Huet is 10-2 since he was acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline.
For the Lightning, assured of last place in the East, there’s only one more game to go in what has turned into a long season — and they’ll be without top scorer Vincent Lecavalier, who left with a wrist injury after falling awkwardly following a third-period hit by Milan Jurcina. He’ll have an MRI on Friday.
''It's an absolute cheap shot,'' Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. “It's a guy in a vulnerable position. It's an interference if the puck isn't anywhere near him, and that isn't called. It's an absolute cheap shot.''