Alexander Semin's Overtime Goals Lifts Washington Capitals Back into First Place

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Alexander Semin's Overtime Goals Lifts Washington Capitals Back into First Place
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Semin's winner

I hope that tonight's 3-2 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers will be the Capitals' worst game during this visit to the Sunshine State.

I know that any win on the road is a good win, but they will need a better effort tomorrow night in order to stay atop the Southeast Division.

Alexander Semin rescued a poor overall undisciplined performance by the Capitals, scoring a pretty goal just 48 seconds into the extra session. He also may have saved the Caps an embarrassing loss in front of their Fathers and Brothers, as the Caps are on their annual Mentor road trip.

Tonight's win did extend their record to 6-1 over the last three seasons with the dads in attendance on the traditional road trip.

Good and bad, many things are said about Semin in the media. One good thing that must be noted is that Semin scores valuable and timely goals for his team.

Washington is now 15-0 when he finds the back of the net. Winners of four straight games, the Capitals are now in sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division with 82 points. Washington reclaimed sole possession of the top spot for the first time since Dec. 29, a span of 75 days.

The Capitals did spend one day back on Jan. 17 tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the Southeast.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

They lead the Bolts by one point and now travel to the left coast of the Sunshine State to play the Lightning in a crucial game tomorrow night.

If Washington hopes to leave the state of Florida with four points, it will have to bring a better performance tomorrow night against a more experienced Lightning squad. Having lost two in a row, the Bolts will be in a feisty mood. Tampa is coming off one of its worst offensive stretches of the season in its last 10 games.

The Bolts have not scored more than two goals in seven of their last eight games.

The Capitals continue to be a statistical anomaly, and not in a good way. They failed to score the first goal again tonight but did manage to tie the game in the first period. Washington had not scored a first period marker in its past six contests.

The first period score was just its 39th goal in the opening frame this season, last in the NHL.

The Capitals were outshot (35-24) in the game, lost the faceoff category and allowed the Panthers six chances with the extra man. Many of the penalties Washington committed were bad, ill-timed plays.

Not that any penalty comes at a good part in the game, but breaking your stick on an opponent while already down a man—with the lead—and three minutes remaining in the game is not a good penalty, Dennis Wideman. 

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Michael Neuvirth made his fifth consecutive start in goal and, as he has done many times this season, kept the Capitals in the game. Neuvirth added to his new record of most wins by a Caps rookie goalie. He was stellar in making 32 saves, notching win No. 22 on the season.

Florida, as most opponents do against the Caps, scored first. The Cats' Bill Thomas converted a two-on-one following a Wideman turnover in his own offensive zone. Tonight's game was not Wideman's best effort since joining the Caps.

Wideman, who beat the Caps with an overtime goal as a Panther in the team's last contest, could not recover on the goal by Thomas. He dove to break up the play but was too late, as Thomas had already beat Neuvirth.

The Caps' Nicklas Backstrom wasted no time in answering Thomas's with his 17th of the season. Alexander Ovechkin, working the puck out of the corner, hit Backstrom with a pass at the top of the right face-off circle. Backstrom one-timed the pass, beating Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen just two minutes after the Cats scored first.

The Caps would take the lead in the second period, when former first-round draft pick Boyd Gordon made a rare goal scoring appearance. Gordon, who was drafted by Washington 17th overall in 2002, was working hard behind the net and in the corners, freeing the puck back to the point.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Gordon slid to the front of the Panthers' net afterwards and backhanded home a rebound off a John Carlson shot. The Caps would carry the one-goal lead until Florida converted with a two-man advantage late in the game. 

"It was nice to get one and help the team," Gordon said. "It was a big win for us, and to get these two points heading to Tampa Bay is huge." (nhl.com)

With Wideman and John Erskine in the sin bin, the Panthers' David Booth backhanded home a loose puck in front of Neuvirth to tie the game with just 2:36 left. Washington seemed unfazed by the goal and came out with its heads up to begin the extra session.

Florida carried the opening faceoff in overtime immediately into Washington’s zone, but Semin picked up a loose puck along the half boards and skated down the left wing with Marcus Johansson trailing him.

Semin fed Johansson a pass at the top of the right faceoff circle and Johansson fed it right back to Semin, who slapped a one-timer short side past Clemmensen for the game winner.

The goal was Semin's 23rd of the year, and he now has five markers in his last nine games.

The Caps have now won two consecutive overtime games. Prior to beating the Islanders in overtime on Tuesday, the Caps had lost their previous seven games that extended beyond regulation. Before Tuesday the Caps had not won beyond regulation since way back on Nov-28, a 3-2 shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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The Caps last seven wins have come by just one goal, improving their record to 19-7-10 in one-goal games. They managed to bump their overtime record to 8-10 this season. Washington also improved to 17-12-3 away from DC.

"I think our team plays like we're not going to score too many goals, not just Neuvy," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "So the focus has to be there from the team as a whole. We just have to batten down the hatches and be ready to play those kinds of games every night."

Tomorrow night’s game in Tampa will be a nationally televised contest on the Versus network. Join me live here on the Bleacher Report, as I will post live updates during the battle for first in the Southeast. You can also follow me all day long on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/zlotsports) with any updates prior to the game.

"We were kind of off and on there tonight," said forward Mike Knuble, "but we did enough to win and at the end got a good result and try to carry it over into tomorrow night." 

Lets hope so, because you can bet Bolts head coach Guy Boucher has his troops ready and waiting.

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