Washington Capitals Beat Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2, as Alex Ovechkin Scores His 50th Goal for the Third Time

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 2009

TAMPA, March 19 -- Alex Ovechkin added another milestone to a résumé that's already one of the most impressive in the game.

But Ovechkin's 50th goal -- and the unconventional celebration that followed it -- had to share the spotlight on Thursday night with Mike Green, who tallied twice to lift the Washington Capitals to their ninth straight win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2.

Green netted goals No. 26 and 27, including the winner early in the third period. It was the defenseman's fourth multigoal game of the season and moved him within three goals of becoming the first NHL blueliner since Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93 to record 30 or more goals.

But what everyone was talking about after the game was Ovechkin, both his accomplishment and the way he toasted it. After ripping a shot past goalie Mike McKenna to put the Capitals ahead 1-0, Ovechkin dropped his stick and pretended it was too hot to pick up. The fans at St. Pete Times Forum did not appreciate the gesture and booed Ovechkin, who recently was criticized by Canadian television commentator Don Cherry for his colorful celebrations.

Ovechkin was unapologetic afterward, but not everyone was happy about his display of showmanship.

"It's done right now, no pressure, nothing," Ovechkin said before explaining the celebration. "Me, José Theodore, [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Mike Green] said if I score goal, José tell me just put the stick on the ice and try like it's so hot. Backie stopped and Greenie stopped, so I have to do it myself."

As for the criticism he might receive from Cherry, Ovechkin shot back with a defiant smile: "Oh yeah, he's going to be [ticked] off for sure. I love it. I can't wait till he says something about me. Old coaches, old system, you know?"

Lightning Coach Rick Tocchet and McKenna, though, took exception to the celebration.

"He came down a notch in my book after that. I grew up in the old days in the Spectrum where that first period, after that happened, it might have been a three-hour first period," Tocchet said. "It's not something I like [and] it's hard for me to see that in our building."

McKenna added: "It's not something I've ever seen at the NHL level, I can say that. He's always exiting to watch. He's great for the game, but it's not something I would have done."

Ovechkin, who also had a pair of assists, became the first Capital to score 50 goals three times and only the second active player to accomplish the feat, joining Anaheim's Teemu Selanne.

"I haven't said anything yet," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin's celebration. "It was his 50th, so maybe he was thinking of something special, I don't know. He's never done that with me that I've seen. I personally don't like it as much."

Ovechkin's countryman, rookie Simeon Varlamov, improved to 3-0-0 with a solid performance. In his first NHL start since Dec. 18, Varlamov made 26 saves, including some spectacular stops in the first period, against a woeful but dangerous Lightning team that still boasts Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Prospal.

After Ovechkin's goal, Lightning center Steven Stamkos evened the score 1-1 with a rebound goal. The teams traded the game's next two scores -- notched by Green and St. Louis -- but Washington took command in the third period.

After the Capitals had an apparent goal by Eric Fehr disallowed, Green took a pass from Viktor Kozlov (three assists) and snapped a shot from the slot past McKenna to put the Capitals ahead, 3-2. Goals by Michael Nylander and Matt Bradley sealed the Capitals' second straight win.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding Ovechkin's celebration, everyone, including Boudreau, was in awe of Ovechkin reaching 50 goals for the third time in four NHL seasons.

"He's got a shot that's second to none and he's got a determination that's second to none," Boudreau said. "There's going to be more seasons where he's going to get more than 50, more than 60 and maybe even in the 70 [range] before he's done yet."

Capitals Notes: Fourth-line forward Boyd Gordon, one of the team's most reliable players on the penalty kill and on faceoffs, will miss two to three weeks because of a broken finger he suffered Tuesday when he was struck by a shot. . . . Quintin Laing was recalled from minor league Hershey (Pa.) to replace Gordon.

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