For more than two periods, the game was about possible retribution for a week-old goal celebration by Alex Ovechkin.
Then, with the score tied in the third, the player whose career was nearly ended by a concussion scored his first goal in the more than a year, an emotional moment that brought the Verizon Center to its feet.
Brian Pothier's slap shot with 15:30 remaining proved to be the winning goal, and the Washington Capitals maintained their dominance over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night with a 5-3 victory.
Ovechkin scored his 52nd and 53rd goals _ and did nothing over-the-top after the puck went in either time _ and added two assists for the Capitals, who blew a 3-1 first-period lead before holding on to beat the Lightning for the 10th straight time. Nicklas Backstrom scored his 20th and 21st goals. Ovechkin reached 100 points for the season with his second goal, an empty-netter with 7 seconds to play.
Martin St. Louis scored his 29th, and Steven Stamkos and Vaclav Prospal added goals for the Lightning.
Pothier's career was in jeopardy after he was checked into the board by Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic on Jan. 3, 2008. The 31-year-old defenseman had headaches and dizziness for nearly a year, and he wasn't able to skate until a specialist fitted him with glasses that fixed his vision problems. He made his NHL return on March 16 _ defying suggestions from some who suggested he retire _ and continues to do daily eye exercises.
This was Pothier's fourth game back, and his scoring shot threaded through a crowd of players to beat goaltender Mike McKenna high to the stick side. It was his first goal since Dec. 27, 2007, and the first goal scored by any Capitals defenseman other than Mike Green in 16 games.
The game was the first between the teams since Ovechkin sparked a controversy with a premeditated celebration of his 50th goal in a 5-2 win at Tampa Bay on March 19. The league's reigning MVP dropped his stick on the ice and pretended it was too hot to touch, riling the Lightning and touching off a week's worth of debates over whether such antics have a place in hockey.
By the time the rematch came around, both coaches were downplaying any notion that the last-place Lightning would seek any revenge in any way other than perhaps trying a little extra to break their losing streak to first-place Washington. The Lightning's frustration played out in 10 penalties that led to three power-play goals by the Capitals.
There were no blatant cheap shots on the Russian, just lots of physical hockey.
The game was less than three minutes old when Ovechkin skated into the offensive zone with the puck and was slashed by Josef Melichar and then almost immediately tripped by Matt Smaby. Ovechkin slid backward into the boards, and both Lightning players were assessed minor penalties. Ovechkin converted the 5-on-3 with a slap shot for the game's first goal, then celebrated by thrusting his left hand into the air before he was mobbed by his teammates.
Ovechkin and Smaby traded hits along the boards later in the period, but it was David Koci's decision to jump Matt Bradley after the whistle that gave the Capitals another power play. Washington converted when a shot from Ovechkin deflected off Backstrom's skate and into the net. A video review upheld the goal because the Swedish forward did not use a kicking motion.
After St. Louis made the score 2-1, the Capitals got another power play when Matt Lashoff held Ovechkin during a mini-breakaway. Backstrom backhanded a rebound during the man advantage for his second goal of the game and was congratulated on the spot by his teammates. Tampa Bay's Noah Welch, seemingly upset that the Capitals were gathered directly in front of his team's goal, tried to break up the celebration.
The Lightning rallied to tie with goals in the second and third periods, but Pothier's unlikely score settled the game.
Notes:@ Capitals LW Alexander Semin missed the game with the flu. ... Washington recalled Fs Keith Aucoin and Oskar Osala from Hershey of the AHL. Aucoin had an assist in the game.
(This version CORRECTS Capitals 5, Lightning 3. SUBS 7th graf, 'This was ...' to correct that Pothier's last goal was Dec. 27, 2007, sted Dec. 26.)
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