Capitals Vs. Lightning: Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin Shine In Sunshine State, Lift Caps To 5-2 Victory Over Lightning

The Capitals cut the Lightning's Southeast Division lead to three points in an important 5-2 victory Friday.

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Capitals Vs. Lightning: Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin Shine In Sunshine State, Lift Caps To Big 5-2 Win Over Lightning

The Washington Capitals entered Friday's divisional matchup with the Southeast-leading Tampa Bay Lightning knowing that it was a must-win situation. A loss would put Washington seven points behind Tampa Bay. Three points looks much better.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice, while Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera chipped in in a 5-2 victory over the Lightning that closes the gap within the Southeast Division. The win also snaps Washington's three-game losing streak.

A hot start for the Capitals didn't mean much as the Lightning scored the first goal of the game on their first shot thanks to Teddy Purcell. Shortly after, however, Backstrom scored off a rebound to tie the game. In the second period, Laich and Ovechkin would score 1:47 apart to extend Washington's lead to 3-1. Laich scored on a backhand in the slot, while Ovechkin rifled a wrist shot past Dwayne Roloson on the power play. Roloson looked human for the first time against the Capitals this season; in his previous two starts against the Caps since being acquired from the New York Islanders January 1, Roloson stopped all 57 shots he faced in two shutout victories.

Brett Clark's power play goal would cut the lead to 3-2 shortly before the second intermission, but the Lightning could not get the tying goal because of Semyon Varlamov's (23 saves) stellar play in net. Backstrom would add an insurance goal at 12:22 off yet another rebound to give the Caps a 4-2 lead. Chimera would add an empty-netter to seal the victory. The top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Chimera combined for four goals, six assists and 17 shots on goal.

With the win and much-needed momentum on their side, the Caps return home for a Super Bowl Sunday game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Capitals Vs. Lightning: Caps Break Out, Lead 3-2 After Second Period

The Capitals needed to get some breathing room from the Lightning. They got it.

Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin would score within two minutes of each other to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead over the Lightning after 40 minutes.

Laich gave the Capitals the lead at 6:38 after some hard work in the offensive zone. Mathieu Perreault found himself involved in a scrum on the left faceoff circle. Perreault was able to corral the puck away from a couple of Lightning players and sent a pass to a streaking Laich in the slot. Laich would then fire a backhand over Roloson for his 10th goal of the season.

Ovechkin, who had his goal in the first period taken away from him after it was awarded to Nicklas Backstrom, made no doubts about it just 1:47 after Laich's goal. While on the power play, Ovechkin rifled a shot from outside the left faceoff circle and beat Roloson as Mike Knuble created traffic in front. The goal gave Ovechkin his sixth straight 20-goal season.

The Capitals, however, continued to play with fire as the period continued. Washington committed two penalties after Ovechkin's goal. The Caps would kill the first one, but weren't so lucky on the second one. Brett Clark would deflect in a Teddy Purcell slap shot to cut the lead to 3-2 as time expired in the second period.

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Capitals Vs. Lightning: Nicklas Backstrom Solves Dwayne Roloson, Game Tied At 1-1 After First Period

The Dwayne Roloson quagmire has been solved.

Nicklas Backstrom scored midway through the first period to give the Capitals their first goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their last two meetings as the teams are tied at 1-1 after 20 minutes.

The Caps came out firing and found themselves with an early chance when Jason Chimera sprung for a breakaway after a Lightning miscue. A roughing penalty against Mattias Ohlund would give the Capitals an early power play, but they could not score on four shots. Washington had the first six shots on goal.

Despite the hot start, the Lightning struck first on their first shot. Teddy Purcell scored his 11th goal of the season at 3:21 on a routine wrist shot that somehow beat Semyon Varlamov. Purcell charged through the neutral zone and found only John Erskine between him and Varlamov. Purcell got the shot off and it caught Varlamov flat-footed. Purcell has four goals in his last three games.

Backstrom, however, made sure that the Lightning did not strike twice before they had a chance to score. With Matt Hendricks and Purcell (serving for Roloson) in the penalty box, Backstrom scored his 13th goal of the season as a result of crashing the net. Mike Green fired the puck in from the point and Roloson could not handle the rebound. After an initial hack, the puck rolled loose and Backstrom knocked it in at 9:09. It was the first goal that the Caps have scored against Roloson since he joined the Lightning January 1.

There was no love lost between the two teams. Hendricks and Roloson got tangled up in the crease before Backstrom's goal. Shortly after, Hendricks and Steve Downie went at it. Later, Matt Bradley and Adam Hall exchanged punches. The teams combined for 30 penalty minutes.

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Capitals Vs. Lightning: Starting Lineup

Via Mike Vogel, below is tonight's starting lineup for the Washington Capitals as they prepare to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum in a pivotal Southeast Division game.

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Chimera

Hendricks-Johansson-Knuble

Laich-Perreault-Beagle

Steckel-Gordon-Bradley

Alzner-Carlson

Schultz-Green

Erskine-Hannan

Alexander Semin did not make the trip. Semin has scored six of Washington's 12 goals against Tampa Bay this season.

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Capitals Vs. Lightning: Divisional Showdown In Tampa A Must-Win For Caps

Last year, the Washington Capitals literally and figuratively ran away with the Southeast Division. The Caps built an insurmountable lead within the division and never looked back after winning by 38 points. This year, however, has been a much different story. With the Tampa Bay Lightning pulling away with the division lead, the Capitals will attempt to slow them down in a pivotal matchup Friday.

Entering the 2009-10 season, Washington had dominated Tampa Bay for quite some time; when the Lightning defeated the Capitals 7-4 on January 12, 2010, it was their first victory in the series since November 2007. Things seemed to return to normal at the beginning of the 2010-11 season when Washington defeated Tampa Bay twice by a combined score of 12-3. Since then, the Lightning have defeated the Capitals in their last two meetings behind shutouts by Dwayne Roloson. After going 19-2-3 against division opponents last season, the Capitals are just 9-6-2 this season.

When Roloson, who should start, and the Lightning take the ice Friday, they will be looking to not only shutout the Capitals for the third consecutive time, but to win their third consecutive shutout game in general. Tampa Bay is riding a six-game winning streak, with the last two wins coming via shutout. It is the Lightning's longest winning streak since 2004, the year they won the Stanley Cup. Washington, meanwhile, has lost three straight (0-1-2) and six of nine.

The Caps and Lightning enter Friday's game having played the same number of games (52) and with the same number of regulation losses (15). Yet, Tampa Bay holds a five-point lead because it has five more wins (32); the Capitals have five more overtime losses (10). With their fourth consecutive division title slipping away, the Capitals know that Friday's game is a must-win:

"It's getting that way," Mike Knuble said when asked if Friday's game was a must-win. "As much as you don't want to say that, it's sort of getting that way to keep up with the pace -- nobody's really losing games. They become must-wins; it's probably been awhile since we had a must-win in the regular season. We've got to consistently get on track and win games it's the only way we're going to stay in the race."

Despite practicing this week, Alexander Semin's status for Friday is unclear. Semin, who hasn't played since January 8, has scored six of Washington's 12 goals against the Lightning this season, but has scored just once since his hat trick against Tampa Bay November 26.

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