- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Alex Ovechkin reached another major milestone, and Mike Green made a big move toward one of his own.

Green potted a pair of goals in his pursuit of the first 30-goal season by a defenseman in 16 years, and Ovechkin reached the 50-goal plateau for the third time in the Washington Capitals’ 5-2 victory Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum.

After collecting a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin carried the puck down the right wing before snapping a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Mike McKenna inside the far post at 7:43 of the opening period.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” Ovechkin said. “It was lucky goal I think, but now it is done and no pressure [anymore].”

Ovechkin is the first player in franchise history to post three 50-goal seasons. Of the 20 players in NHL history with at least three 50-goal seasons, only Ovechkin and Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne are active.

After he scored, Ovechkin dropped his stick behind the net and exaggeratedly began attempting to pick it up as if it were too hot to touch. He motioned to Green to come over and help and then went back to pretending to pick up the stick.

Ovechkin said goalie Jose Theodore helped him plan the stunt. Hockey pundit Don Cherry has criticized Ovechkin for his celebrations, and this was a new level.

“Oh yeah, [Cherry] is going to be [ticked] off for sure,” Ovechkin said. “I love it - love it. I can’t wait until he say something about it.”

Last season Ovechkin tallied Nos. 50, 51 and 52 on March 3 against Boston and proceeded to add 13 more in the final 15 games of the season en route to the NHL’s first 60-goal year in more than a decade. In his rookie campaign, Ovechkin netted No. 50 at Atlanta on April 13 and had two more in the last three games.

Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy hold the record for the most 50-goal seasons with nine. Gretzky and Bossy are also the only other players in NHL history to have at least three 50-goal seasons in their first four years in the league.

“Well, Bossy did it [nine] years in a row - in a different era, of course,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Alex, he’s doing it, and he’ll get more. He’s got a shot that is second to none and a determination that is second to none.”

After a power-play goal by Steven Stamkos, Green put the Caps in front again with 9.6 seconds left in the period. His shot from the right point beat McKenna high to the glove side.

He added No. 27 to give Washington a 3-2 lead 1:48 into the third period. Viktor Kozlov collected a rebound from an Ovechkin slap shot and carried it behind the net before finding Green out in front. Green is bidding to become the first NHL defenseman to reach 30 goals in a season since Kevin Hatcher did so for the Caps in 1992-93.

“Sometimes you are just a little off, but I kind of got my feel back,” Green said. “Pucks are going in again - it is nice.”

Green left the game early after getting tangled up with Stamkos along the boards behind his net. He slumped to the ice and then slowly went back to the bench before heading for the locker room with 1:12 remaining. Both he and Boudreau said the wind had been knocked out of him.

Martin St. Louis had leveled the score at 2-2 late in the second period, scooping up a rebound in a scrum in front of the net at 15:54.

Kozlov made another nifty play to set up his team’s fourth tally. He fought his way through a check along the left wall and then sent a cross-ice pass to Michael Nylander, who chipped it past McKenna at 7:38 of the final period.

Matt Bradley added another insurance tally at 12:26. Rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 26 saves to win for the third time in as many NHL starts.

The win gives the Caps 96 points - two more than their total last season - and pushes them one in front of the idle New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference, though the Devils have two games in hand.

It also moves Washington within four points of slumping Boston for the No. 1 seed in the conference. The Bruins, who lost 3-2 in overtime Thursday night to Los Angeles, have a game in hand.

Note - Donald Brashear missed his fifth consecutive game with a sprained knee.

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