Caps’ Poti returns without the pain

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TAMPA, Fla. — In an odd bit of serendipity, Tom Poti on Saturday found himself in the same place he was two years and seven days earlier.

The Washington Capitals defenseman had last played in an NHL game Jan. 12, 2011, at the arena now known as Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Saturday night, Poti’s comeback became complete as he returned from a groin injury and fractured pelvis. He skated 19 shifts for 13:20 in the 6-3 loss to the Lightning.

“It felt OK,” Poti said. “It felt good. I didn’t feel pain or anything.”

Poti has been pain-free for just a few weeks after an arduous couple of years. The 35-year-old defenseman picked up a secondary assist in his return but conceded it took a couple of shifts to get into a rhythm.

“The game was definitely a lot faster than what I was used to down in Hershey,” Poti said. “The timing thing will come, and I think it was OK out there.”

Because of conditioning and not concerns over Poti’s health, coach Adam Oates opted to dress seven defensemen. Poti’s two-game stint with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League last week was the only recent competitive game experience on Washington’s blue line.

That turned out to be a smart decision as Jack Hillen left in the second period with what Oates called an “upper-body injury.” Hillen was checked by Vincent Lecavalier and careened into the boards from a couple of feet away, appearing to hit his left shoulder.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound defenseman skated off under his own power but appeared to be favoring his left shoulder or arm.

With Hillen out after just 3:29 of ice time, the Caps could at least roll the usual six defenseman the rest of the way.

“Of course I didn’t want it to be like that,” Oates said. “But having that extra D, that was part of the reasoning.”

Ward makes impression

Right wing Joel Ward just wanted an opportunity to contribute offensively with the Caps like he did with the Nashville Predators previously, something he didn’t get under coach Dale Hunter.

But Ward started the season on the power play and rewarded Oates‘ confidence.

Ward scored twice Saturday night, including once on the power play.

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