Brian Pothier Helps Capitals Post a 5-3 Triumph Over the Lightning

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 2009

The box score shows that Brian Pothier's goal last night was the Washington Capitals' fourth in a 5-3 win over the woeful Tampa Bay Lightning. What it doesn't show is exactly how much the third-period tally meant to the veteran defenseman and the sellout crowd that saluted him with a standing ovation.

"I had to hold back the emotion a little bit," said Pothier, after his fourth game back from a 14-month absence because of post-concussion syndrome. "Just to feel like I'm contributing. It had been a few games. I was feeling like a spare part, but to put one in, an important goal, that was pretty special."

It wasn't pretty. But it's a goal -- and a moment -- Pothier and the 18,277 on hand at Verizon Center won't soon forget.

The Capitals had blown a two-goal lead against one of the NHL's worst teams when Pothier wound up at the point and fired a shot through a screen. The puck hit a skate in the slot, changed directions and eluded Lightning goalie Mike McKenna to put Washington ahead, 4-3.

The goal was Pothier's first since Dec. 27, 2007, and when the offensive-minded defenseman's name was announced over the public address system, fans slowly rose to their feet and applauded what's become the feel-good story of the NHL season.

"I just told him that 15 months is way too long in between goals," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You just think of the mountain the man had to climb. If you knew the days he came in and he couldn't even focus. He practiced for two straight months without getting cleared, and to see a little success happen to him, that was really uplifting."

Alex Ovechkin (two goals, two assists), Nicklas Backstrom (two goals, assist), Brooks Laich (three assists) and the power play (3 for 9) also had big nights for the Capitals, who recorded their 10th straight victory over the Lightning, pulling them within one of the club record for consecutive wins over an opponent. The longest was an 11-game winning streak over the New York Islanders from 1998 to 2000.

After opening a 3-1 lead in the first period, the Capitals came out flat in the second period, and as a result, the game got closer than it should have.

"We went softer than we usually do," said Backstrom, who recorded his first two-goal game in more than a year. "We stepped it up in the third period. Other than that, it was a good win."

Tampa Bay rookie Steven Stamkos scored with 54.6 seconds remaining in the second period, then Vinny Prospal tied the score with an ordinary wrist shot from the top of the circle that found its way past José Theodore, who finished with 33 saves, several of which were of the highlight-reel variety.

Pothier, though, bailed out Theodore and his teammates.

"It's been a while," said Pothier, who was awarded the red hard hat given after wins to the team's hardest-working player. "I've had some long droughts, but never quite that long. After it got past the first [Lightning player], I lost track of it. But then when I saw [Keith] Aucoin raise his stick, I was so fired up."

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