WASHINGTON - Even a pair of goals from Alex Ovechkin - who kept his celebrations simple - couldn't match the emotional impact of the winner from Brian Pothier, who scored for the first time since a long recovery from a concussion that nearly cost him his career.
Pothier's slapshot with 15:30 remaining broke a 3-3 tie Friday night as the Washington Capitals maintained their dominance over the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-3 victory.
"It's been a while and really feels good," Pothier said. "I had to hold back the emotion a little bit, but I feel like I'm contributing. To put one in and an important goal was pretty special."
Ovechkin scored his 52nd and 53rd goals 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. Ovechkin reached 100 points for the season with his second goal, an empty-netter with seven seconds to play
Nicklas Backstrom added his 20th and 21st goals for the Capitals. Martin St. Louis got his 29th, and Steven Stamkos and Vaclav Prospal also scored for the Lightning.
Pothier's career was in jeopardy after he was checked into the boards by Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic on Jan. 3, 2008. The 31-year-old defenceman had headaches and dizziness for nearly a year, and he was making little progress toward a return until a specialist fitted him with glasses that helped fix his vision problems. He made his NHL return on March 16 - defying 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 defenceman other than Mike Green in 16 games.
"I just told him 15 months is way too long in between goals," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You just think of the mountain the man had to climb. If you guys knew the days he came in - he couldn't even focus, and he just sat there and he'd bring his kids in and he'd walked around and he'd leave. He practised for two straight months without getting cleared, and he worked so hard, and to see a little bit of success happen to him tonight was really uplifting."
Pothier was perhaps the only player who could make Ovechkin a secondary story on this night.
The game was the first between the teams since the league's reigning MVP sparked a controversy with a premeditated celebration of his 50th goal in a 5-2 win at Tampa Bay on March 19. Ovechkin 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.
"They wanted to win so bad," Boudreau said. "I think we met their push initially and we kept our clam for the most part."
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 slapshot 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 Ovechkin said there was nothing out of line.
"It was a regular game," Ovechkin said. "Regular hits."
The Capitals converted another power play when a wayward 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 it 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. McKenna and Noah Welch were upset that the Capitals were gathered directly in front of his team's goal, and Welch tried to break up the celebration.
The Lightning rallied to tie it with goals in the second and third periods, but Pothier's unlikely score settled the game.
"We played hard tonight," St. Louis said. "Unfortunately we didn't get the result. But I think if we play like that with that kind of desperation and intensity game-in and game-out, we'd be very happy."
Notes: Capitals LW Alexander Semin missed the game because of the flu. ... Washington recalled Fs Keith Aucoin and Oskar Osala from Hershey of the AHL. Aucoin had an assist in the game. ... Boudreau is giving his players Saturday and Sunday off because the Capitals don't play again until Wednesday. "The guys need a mental break," he said.