Lightning 4, Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals were the recipients of a pair of fortunate breaks in the opening moments of the second period last night, turned both of them into goals and led by three. But it wasn't enough against the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning, whose talented lineup regrouped, forced overtime and won, 4-3, in a shootout.

It was third time this season players from the Capitals and Lightning found themselves leaning over the boards after 65 minutes of play at MCI Center, watching as a shootout unfolded in front of them. Vaclav Prospal and goalie John Grahame made sure this one had a different outcome, despite falling behind in regulation and penalty shots.

Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin scored the first goal of the shootout to put the Capitals ahead, but Lightning star Brad Richards and Prospal each converted, and Grahame turned away rookie Tomas Fleischmann in sudden death to hand Washington its second defeat in two nights before an announced crowd of 12,038.

"We had a chance, we were up 3-0 with half the game done," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "We gave them a chance to come back."

The Capitals appeared to be headed toward a sure victory after Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby scored in a 13-second span in the opening minute of the second period to put the Capitals ahead 3-0. Pettinger's goal came on a penalty shot; Sutherby's went into a nearly empty net after Grahame misplayed the puck. But the lead didn't last long. Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Bolye beat Olie Kolzig (39 saves) with a high wrister at 3 minutes 58 seconds of the second period, then Rob Dimaio poked in a puck that was resting between Kolzig's pads at 12:25. Kolzig was infuriated at the referee for not whistling the play dead; Dimaio's goal made it 3-2. About six minutes into the third, Boyle struck again to tie the game at 3.

"It wasn't like the puck was out of my reach," Kolzig said of the disputed goal. "The puck was under me. Had [referee Don] Koharski been in front of me, he would have blown the whistle."

Kolzig was upset because he felt the Capitals were later denied a goal that seemed to be scored the same way. With 2:39 left, Brian Willsie jammed the puck under Grahame (17 saves) and into the net for what would have been the Capitals' fourth goal. But it was waived off because Koharski had blown his whistle after losing sight of it.

"It was the same thing," Kolzig said. "Grahame didn't have it frozen, but he disallowed it for whatever reason. Just give me some consistency. That's a two-goal swing."

Andrew Cassels banged in a rebound for a 1-0 Capitals' lead moments after a pregame ceremony, during which Cassels received a silver stick from General Manager George McPhee and a Hummer H3 golf cart from his teammates for his recording 1,000th career game Tuesday. Ovechkin was credited with an assist on the goal.

Capitals Notes: Prospect Alexander Semin recently began playing for a new Russian Super League team, Mytishi Khimik, a development that appears to violate a U.S. District Court judge's order that Semin's agent, Mark Gandler, not help Semin switch teams, unless the move was to the Capitals. A hearing in the case is set for Dec. 1. . . . In other legal news, the first hearing in the Moscow Dynamo vs. Ovechkin lawsuit is set for Wednesday. Dynamo, Ovechkin's former Russian Super League team, claims it still owns the player's contractual rights until 2006 and has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to prevent him from playing for the Capitals. In an interview with Canadian sports network TSN yesterday, Dynamo chairman Anatoly Kharchuk continued to deny that his club's motivation is money: "We want Alexander to play for our club. We trained him. And, most importantly, we have all the rights." Capitals and NHL officials have dismissed the lawsuit, saying it is "without merit.". . . . Left wing Jeff Friesen and center Dainius Zubrus, both out with strained groin muscles according to the team, missed their eighth and fourth games in a row, respectively. . . . Defensemen Ivan Majesky and Mathieu Biron were healthy scratches for the Capitals.

Tampa Bay's Vaclav Prospal scores the game-winner past Olie Kolzig. "We gave them a chance to come back," Washington captain Jeff Halpern said.