Washington Capitals center Keith Aucoin, center, celebrates his goal with teammates Joel Ward (42) and Jeff Halpern (15) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WASHINGTON - With Washington trailing after two periods and in danger of losing its fourth consecutive game, Capitals coach Dale Hunter figured it was time for a little bit of a rallying cry.
The gist of his speech in the locker room? According to forward Brooks Laich, "He said, 'Just quit trying to use your skill, and use your will a little bit more.'"
That's exactly what the Capitals did, and captain Alex Ovechkin led the way. After Marcus Johansson tied the game with 3:58 left in regulation, Ovechkin scored on a wrist shot at 4:09 of overtime, and Washington came back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 Thursday night.
"Right now, it's (a) pretty hard time," Ovechkin said of Washington's struggles while it tries to make the playoffs. "We just have to keep going and keep going."
He's mired in his poorest season and entered Thursday with only 26 goals and 23 assists, going without a point in three games. The two-time NHL MVP celebrated the 12th overtime goal of his career—he had one last week to beat the Islanders for Washington's previous victory—by yelling and racing over to leap into the boards after taking Dmitry Orlov's pass.
The goal was set up by poor puck management by the Lightning, allowing Capitals defenceman Dennis Wideman to gain possession and send it to Orlov, who found Ovechkin all alone on the right side, instead of his usual perch on the left.
"If you come in here and you get a point, it's not supposed to be disappointing," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "But it's disappointing because it was just a dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb play, that last play."
Ovechkin's goal ruined the first NHL start by Lightning goalie Dustin Tokarski, who played quite well most of the evening and finished with 29 saves. The 22-year-old Canadian was recalled from Norfolk of the AHL on Wednesday, a day after Mathieu Garon got injured in a game.
By the third period, Tokarski was severely dehydrated and fighting cramps. When there were breaks, he would drape an arm over his net to try to stay upright.
Teddy Purcell helped the Lightning take the lead by extending his point streak to 11 games with a goal and an assist on power plays. He has seven goals and 15 assists during that run.
About 11 minutes into the second period, Brett Connolly, a 19-year-old rookie forward, was hit in the head by what appeared to be Washington defenceman Mike Green's left arm. Connolly stayed down on the ice for a bit, then was taken toward the locker room. He returned before the end of the period.
On the play, defenceman Orlov had Connolly pinned against the boards when Green joined in and knocked Connolly down. There was no penalty called.
"I saw it. The league has to look at that. It's right at the head," Boucher said. "The head's targeted. For me, it's clear. The ref didn't see it. But, you know, the refs are on the ice. They can't see everything. It happens so fast. There's people beside them.
"It's a head target. It's clear. We just watched it on video."
Green wasn't available for comment after the game.
Asked about the sequence, Hunter said: "Both teams were hitting hard."
Washington led 1-0 after the first period on Keith Aucoin's goal. Ryan Malone tied it for the Lightning at 7:25 of the second when the puck went in off his skate, and Purcell was credited with the go-ahead goal when his shot went in off Capitals defenceman John Carlson's skate with 1:18 left in that period.
The Capitals managed only three shots in the second period, which closed with boos from the stands, a refrain growing more and more common.
"We were frustrated. We were a little down on ourselves," Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner said, noting that before the third period, Hunter "just came in and pretty much told us to man up and start playing. Everybody."
After getting that earful from Hunter, Washington applied a lot more pressure in the third and OT, resulting in Johansson's tying goal, then Ovechkin's winner.
"Well, you know, every game is like a playoff game right now," Hunter said.
NOTES: Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun made his first start in seven games, and first at home in a month, and made 24 saves. ... In his last eight games in the minors, Tokarski was 8-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average. ... Tampa Bay opens a season-high, seven-game homestand on Saturday against Carolina. ... After going 2-2-1 on its five-game homestand, Washington will play the next six of seven on the road.