It took 48 extra seconds, but the Washington Capitals managed to capture two points against the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening and push themselves forward in the standings to take sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since Dec. 29.

After allowing the Panthers to tie the game on a five-on-three with less than three minutes remaining in regulation and force overtime, it was Alexander Semin who snapped a shot past Scott Clemmensen to give the Capitals a 3-2 victory heading into a showdown for top billing in the division Monday at Tampa Bay.

Washington (36-20-10) carries 82 points, one more than the Lightning, into the final meeting between the two teams this season. With 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Capitals have gained the inside track on taking one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Including the win at BankAtlantic Center over the Panthers, each of the Capitals' last seven victories have been decided by one goal as Washington's confidence in close games continues to grow. Michal Neuvirth made 32 saves against Florida (26-31-9) while Nicklas Backstrom and Boyd Gordon recorded Washington's first two goals before Semin sealed a fourth consecutive triumph that marked the Capitals' first four-game winning streak since Nov. 24 to Dec. 1.

"Sometimes it's good to play the close games," said Neuvirth, who is 6-2-0 in his past eight starts. "It's a little bit intense and I don't mind playing in intense games. We've won four in a row and it's a good start. I think we're getting something together here, and tomorrow's going to be another great challenge for us and we've got to be ready."

In the third period, everything appeared ripe for a Capitals regulation victory. Washington stuck to its basic principles of getting the puck deep, working the play down low and taking care of the play in its own zone first and foremost. Holding on to a 2-1 lead courtesy of Gordon's goal in the second period, the Capitals limited the Panthers to only three shots through the first 16 minutes 17 seconds of the final period until they ran into penalty trouble.

John Erskine was called for tripping, and 40 seconds into that penalty kill, former Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman was whistled for slashing to give Florida a five-on-three. David Booth corralled a rebound in front on the two-man advantage and tied the game with 2:36 remaining in regulation, erasing what had been solid play for the bulk of the period. Although the untimely penalties prohibited the Capitals from ending the contest in regulation, the unflappable nature Washington displays when up by a single goal or tied is a trend it wants to continue.