3RD-PERIOD LEAD SLIPS AWAY AGAIN

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - - The Washington Capitals earned a point in the standings, but their performance against the New Jersey Devils did little to quell concerns about their ability to hold a late lead or stay out of the penalty box at critical times.

The Capitals lost their fourth straight game Monday at Verizon Center, 3-2, in the shootout after blowing a one-goal lead with under seven minutes left to play, then giving the Devils a power play in overtime.

"Even though we have a fairly veteran team, it's learning how to win again," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you've got it, instead of thinking, 'Uh-oh, what's going to happen, what's going to go wrong?' you're thinking, 'No problem, we're going to win it.' That's the mind-set a little bit right now. So it would be good to eventually win a game again."

Mike Green and Mike Knuble each scored goals in the first period, and goaltender Jos? Theodore was sharp throughout and particularly spectacular in overtime. But it wasn't enough on a night when the Capitals surrendered a third-period lead for the third time in four games.

Leading 2-1, they failed to get the puck out of their own end for about a 90-second span, and New Jersey's David Clarkson pounced.

Clarkson, who had been involved in a fight with Capitals captain Chris Clark in the first period, showed he could use his hands for something else, too. He took a feed from Nicklas Bergfors in the front and fired a slow shot past Theodore to knot the game at 2 with 6 minutes, 24 seconds remaining after the Capitals struggled to get the puck out of their own end for more than a minute.

"We couldn't get the puck out and they scored on it," Boudreau said. "Everyone on the bench and in the building knew something bad was going to happen here."

After that, the Capitals had to kill off another third period assessed to Boyd Gordon - his fourth minor of the year - just to reach overtime. Then in the extra session, Brendan Morrison was whistled for tripping Devils star Zach Parise.

Down four men to three, Theodore made a pair of highlight-reel stops in overtime - both on Parise - to force a shootout. But Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner converted their penalty shots to give the Devils their third straight win.

"Jos? was on top of his game again, but we just couldn't get that win for him," Clark said. On the penalty problems, Clark added: "Penalties are going to happen, but it's just magnified at this point because it's becoming a problem."

In all, the Capitals were assessed five minor penalties but managed to keep the Devils' power play from converting. Washington's power play also struggled, going 0-for-5, including a two-man advantage for 53 seconds early in the third period.

"That was the time to do it," Boudreau said. "Those are the one that you have the killer instinct and put it away."

In an unexpected move, Boudreau split up the Alexes to put more balance on the top two lines. The results were immediate.

With Alex Ovechkin skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble on the top line, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Green and Knuble. The Ovechkin line was on the ice for both goals.

Note:: Defenseman John Erskine did not return after taking his first shift of the second period. Boudreau said he was injured while blocking a shot. "It's upper body," Boudreau said. "He's day-to-day. Nothing is broken, just day to day, just sore."

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