- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

In his first home game since missing 14 months after a concussion, Brian Pothier received a nice ovation in the first period when he was shown on the scoreboard.

The defenseman earned a much more boisterous one later in the evening.

Pothier scored the winning goal, his first tally since Dec. 27, 2007, for the Washington Capitals in a 5-3 victory Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center.

“I was really happy for him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You just think of the mountain the man had to climb - if you guys knew the days when he came in and couldn’t even focus. He would just be there and bring his kids in and walk around. He practiced for two months, I think, without getting cleared - he had worked so hard. And to see a little bit of success happen to him tonight was really uplifting.”

Brooks Laich worked the puck from along the left wall into the middle of the ice, and it trickled out to the right point to Pothier, whose slap shot hit a Tampa Bay player and found the back of the net at 4:30 of the final period.

The goal helped the Caps escape the lowly Lightning after yielding a two-goal lead. Tampa Bay’s Vinny Prospal had tied the score at 3-3 just 91 seconds earlier with a shot from the top of the right circle that surprised Washington goalie Jose Theodore.

“It has been a while, and I really had to hold back the emotions a bit,” Pothier said. “Just to feel like I was contributing - it has only been a few games and I felt like a spare part sometimes, but to put in such an important goal was pretty special.”

For the fourth time in five games against the Lighting this season, the Caps scored three goals in the first period. Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring with a five-on-three goal at 6:49.

A pair of Lightning players took penalties trying to stop Ovechkin on a rush, leading to a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. Ovechkin’s first attempt was blocked, but the puck eventually came to Nicklas Backstrom to the left of goalie Mike McKenna. He sent it back to the league’s leading goal scorer for a blast from the top of the circles.

Backstrom made it 2-0 at 11:17 with another power-play marker. Ovechkin’s slap pass hit Backstrom’s skate and went in; the goal was allowed after an official review because there was no distinct kicking motion.

The center added another extra-man tally just before the first intermission. McKenna stopped Mike Green’s one-timer from the right point, but Backstrom was at the top of the crease to tap home the rebound. It was Backstrom’s first multigoal game of the season and the second of his career. Boudreau split up Backstrom and Ovechkin at even strength, but they combined for seven points - six on the power play.

Ovechkin added the empty-netter with seven seconds left to give him 53 goals and 100 points. It is the second-most goals in his career and his third 100-point campaign.

“He’s a great player,” Backstrom said. “To play with him is great, and we had our goals on the power play tonight. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter who you play with - you always try to do your best out there.”

Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2 with the lone goal of the middle period. He collected a rebound and shifted to his backhand for an easy tally with 54 seconds left.

Stamkos got off a to a slow start for a player who faced such high expectations, but he appears to have adjusted to the NHL. He has 19 goals, tied for fourth among rookies; 12 have come in his past 19 games.

Ovechkin and Backstrom had huge efforts, but this night belonged to Pothier. The 31-year-old was playing only his fourth game since a hit by Boston’s Milan Lucic triggered the fourth documented concussion of his career Jan. 3, 2008.

“I’ve had some long droughts, but never that long,” he said. “Like I said, it is nice to contribute.”

Notes - Donald Brashear missed his eighth straight game with a sprained knee. …

Keith Aucoin and Oskar Osala were recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League to replace Alexander Semin (flu) and Brashear in the lineup.

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