Washington 4, Lightning 3

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals had finally found their stride, but they were running out of time.

Still, judging from the way Ovechkin and his teammates were buzzing around the Lightning net in the final moments last night, it seemed bound to happen.

And with 1 minute 15 seconds left in regulation it did, much to the approval of the announced crowd of 11,515 at MCI Center. Ovechkin took a pass at center ice, muscled his way into the offensive zone, blasted past a Lightning defender and calmly deposited puck in the net, tying the game, forcing overtime and ultimately a shootout -- Ovechkin's playground.

The rookie of the year candidate then finished what he started by tallying the only goal in penalty shots, and backup goalie Brent Johnson turned aside all three Lightning shooters, to clinch the Capitals' 4-3 victory, their second shootout win over the defending champions this season.

After Tampa Bay's Fredrik Modin scored second goal of the game to put the Lightning ahead 3-1 at 6 minutes 29 seconds of the third period, Ovechkin and the Capitals began to assert themselves. The effort finally paid off when defenseman Bryan Muir's power-play slap shot trimmed their deficit to one goal at 9:09 of the final period. Then came Ovechkin's breakthrough. The rookie was consistently the best player on the ice, but until the final minutes, had little to show after being repeatedly frustrated by Lightning goalie Sean Burke.

The Capitals' improbable victory came without goaltender Olie Kolzig, who missed his third consecutive game with a strained leg muscle. It's possible the veteran could return to the lineup tomorrow in Buffalo. Also out was center Dainius Zubrus, who aggravated a groin injury and did not dress. He was replaced in the lineup by Andrew Cassels, a healthy scratch the previous five games. Cassels entered the game with one goal and two assists in 12 games.

Zubrus's absence -- he missed three games earlier this month with the same injury -- left the Capitals without one of their best playmakers and another offensive threat. Jeff Friesen, a five-time 20-goal scorer who had gotten off to a slow start, missed his fourth game in row because of a groin muscle strain.

But when you have Ovechkin on your side, as many teams have found out, the Capitals are rarely really out of it.

The scoreless first period began inauspiciously for the Capitals, who mustered a meager four shots on goal. Including the season-low two shots they recorded in the third period of Saturday's 3-2 loss in New Jersey, that gave the Capitals a grand total of six shots in 40 minutes of play. Tampa Bay logged 11 shots in the period.

Ovechkin and his teammates did a better job of getting shots on net in the second period, but so did the Lightning, which struck twice in the span of 1 minute 36 seconds to take a 2-0 lead.

Modin redirected a point shot by defenseman Pavel Kubina around Johnson, who never saw it coming, for a 1-0 lead. Then, moments later, Ruslan Fedotenko backhanded the puck over a sprawled Johnson. The Capitals' goalie had been knocked off balance by a charging Vaclav Prospal, but there was no penalty called, despite Johnson's protest.

The Capitals continued to ramp up the pressure on Burke, and it eventually paid off with 1:51 remaining in the middle frame, which ended with the Lightning leading 2-1 and the shots on goal tied at 18. Ben Clymer scored his second goal of the season and first against his former club, with whom he shared the championship in 2003-04. Clymer muscled his way to the net, swiped at a rebound and it found its way past Burke.

But the Lightning turned another defensive lapse into a game-clinching goal early in the third period, when Modin again was rewarded for skating to the net. He knocked in a rebound to stretch the Lightning's lead to 3-1.

Muir's goal gave the Capitals a chance, and Ovechkin's goal and penalty shot clinched it.

Tampa Bay's Vinny Prospal shoots wide of the net as Brian Sutherby and goalie Brent Johnson defend. Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 14 goals.