- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout last night 4-3. How it happened is a much better tale than how it ended.

Goalie Brent Johnson, who a few weeks back seemingly couldn’t have stopped a beach ball slowly rolling in his direction, returned to the form that made him a star with the St. Louis Blues. He stopped 32 of the 35 shots by the Stanley Cup champions in regulation and overtime, plus all three in the shootout. His transformation was nothing short of remarkable and came just in time.

“[Johnson] ended up with 35 saves, and in this new NHL, three goals-against is likely going to be, for us, a pretty good mark to shoot for,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “He made some great saves, and I think it comes with just getting some ice time, and getting to play back-to-back games certainly helps.”

Left wing Alex Ovechkin, shut out in his last game, was extraordinary last night, a step ahead of his normal sensational self. He scored the tying goal, his 14th of the season, with 75 seconds left in regulation, then scored the only goal for either team in the shootout.

Ovechkin’s heroics came moments after he threw a huge scare into the announced crowd of 11,515 at MCI Center. At 16:38 of the third period he was charging toward the Tampa Bay net, cradling the puck with defender Cory Sarich on him. He got to the net, caught his right skate in the left post and tripped, slamming heavily into the rear boards. He lay on his back on the ice for several seconds, not moving a muscle. Finally he started to twitch, got up and skated back to the bench.

“I’m fine, OK, no problem,” he said in the dressing room.

The jolt must have awakened him because he threw it into overdrive after that, and the Lightning paid a heavy price.

“We must score goals, and I must score goals because my partners give me great chance to score,” Ovechkin said. “I must improve for these chances. I must score it.”

And score it he did. On the tying goal, he took a pass from Jeff Halpern just as he was about to hit the red line and sailed in alone from there. He put on his customary dipsy-doodle moves and sent a backhand shot into the cage under goalie Sean Burke’s right arm.

In the shootout, Vincent Lecavalier took the first shot for Tampa Bay, but Johnson stoned him. Ovechkin was up next, and he did not miss. He became the only player in the NHL with three shootout goals, including two game-winners.

“Going into the shootout, I know that Alex goes in and has a great shot and has every move in the book, and it’s nice to get the first goal,” Johnson said.

It’s also nice to get the next two saves. Johnson, picked up on waivers Oct. 4 from Vancouver, stopped Vaclav Prospal and Pavel Kubina, the huge Czech defenseman who almost single-handedly beat the Caps in the playoffs three years ago.

“I don’t like the shootout, but it’s a very important part of the game right now,” said Lightning coach John Tortorella, who is 0-3 in the extra period. “That’s three points we haven’t come close to getting. … We’ve done absolutely nothing in the shootout.”

That might have something to do with people like Johnson and Olie Kolzig, who was in net when the Caps beat Tampa Bay in a shootout earlier.

Ben Clymer and Bryan Muir scored earlier goals for Washington, which broke a four-game losing streak with the victory.

Notes — Center Andrew Cassels played last night; he had been a healthy scratch for the previous five games. It was the veteran’s 997th career game. … Cassels was in because center/right wing Dainius Zubrus was out after aggravating his groin injury. Also out injured were left wing Jeff Friesen (groin), Kolzig (groin), defenseman Nolan Yonkman (hamstring) and right wing Stephen Peat (broken hand). … Right wing Martin St. Louis (broken finger), the reigning league MVP, was the only Tampa Bay scratch. … The Caps will play host to Warm Hearts Coat Night on Nov. 27. Clean winter coats will be collected at the F Street entrance of MCI Center.

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