Capitals 3, Lightning 2

The first shootout in Washington Capitals history will go down as a memorable one, thanks to Alex Ovechkin's flair, Petr Sykora's precision and Olie Kolzig's steadfastness.

Ovechkin and Sykora each slipped the puck past Tampa Bay's goalie, and Kolzig turned away a Brad Richards wrist shot at the other end moments later to clinch the Capitals' improbable 3-2 shootout victory last night over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I feel a little pressure," Ovechkin said. "I must score this penalty shot. And I score. I'm happy. We played well."

The Capitals put together their best performance of the young season -- capped off by a thrilling shootout -- in front of an announced crowd of 10,002 at MCI Center.

After Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier beat Kolzig with a deft backhander, Ovechkin faked Sean Burke with a stutter-step, then backhanded the puck up and in.

Martin St. Louis, the NHL's leading scorer in 2003-04, fired into Kolzig's midsection. Then Sykora rifled the puck between Burke's pads to put the Caps ahead 2-1. Kolzig followed Sykora's score with a clutch pad save on Richards.

"As soon as he put the puck out to the side, I knew he was going to shoot," Kolzig said of Richards, a splendid left-handed center. "He could have gave me a little pump fake, but he went blocker side and I read it right."

Until last night, the Capitals' season had been defined by third-period meltdowns. But one never materialized against the Lightning, even though Washington was outshot 10-4 in the period and 40-14 in the game.

The Capitals, in fact, had several chances to win the game in regulation, if not for missed opportunities from close range by Dainius Zubrus and Jeff Friesen.

"We did a better job of playing our system," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "When we go into the third period ahead or tied, we seem to do fine. It's a step in the right direction."

Kolzig said: "Even though they outshot us in the third, I think the chances were about even. We missed the net a few times. That's a great sign that we can hold our own against a team like that."

The key statistic: The Capitals limited Tampa Bay to one power-play goal on eight opportunities.

Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon also pointed out that the Lightning was hurt by playing twice in two nights, much like Washington was during its recent stretch of six games in nine days. "You have to make use of your schedule," Hanlon said.

Lecavalier opened the scoring midway through the first period on a five-on-three power play. Moments after being thwarted by Kolzig's quick glove, his blast from the left circle eluded the Capitals' netminder.

Chris Clark tied the game at 1 about two minutes later with a shot Burke never saw coming. Clark, standing behind the goal line about six feet out, banked the puck off of the unsuspecting Tampa Bay goalie's stick.

But the Capitals couldn't hold the lead. With about two minutes remaining in the first period, Vaclav Prospal restored Tampa Bay's lead, 2-1.

Zubrus tied the game at 2 about three minutes into the second period. After taking a feed from Ovechkin, he beat Burke with a low wrist shot from the middle of left circle. Ovechkin's assist extended the standout rookie's point streak to seven games.

After a scoreless third period and five-minute overtime, the teams returned to their benches for the shootout, which was implemented this year as a way to increase fan interest in the sport. Not everyone was impressed.

"It's part of our game now. I hate [shootouts], but our guys have to produce there," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. "It's not good enough. Plain and simple, not good enough."

Capitals Notes: Left wing Matt Pettinger and defenseman Mathieu Biron were healthy scratches. Defenseman Bryan Muir (groin) was also out.