Friday night marked the 280th game of Troy Brouwer’s career. It now stands as the game in which he scored his first NHL hat trick.

The 26-year-old winger recorded a trio of goals in Washington’s 4-3 win over the Lightning, including an empty-net tally with 59.3 seconds remaining in regulation that stood as the game-winner.

Brouwer’s most recent hat trick in any league came on Dec. 20, 2006, when he was in the AHL playing for the Norfolk Admirals against Bridgeport.

“I’m pretty excited,” Brouwer said. “I was close once before, it’s a special feat but at the same time I’m excited about the win tonight. Two points closer to Florida for first in our division, that’s what we’re rally striving for.”

With the win the Capitals have 48 points and are two behind the Panthers, who lost, 4-1, to Pittsburgh Friday night.

While he was pleased with his hat trick, Brouwer was grounded after the game and said that despite the win the Capitals can’t overlook the way they allowed Tampa Bay to surge back into the game in the third period.

“There were a lot of good things in the game, but at the same point at the end of the game there was a lot of uncertainties and mistakes and stuff like that,” Brouwer said. “We’ve got to clean that up and if we want to beat good teams, like Tampa was tonight…We’ve got to clean up our defensive game, clean up our turnovers and just make it so if we are giving up chances that they’re not good, quality chances in tight.”

In addition to the hat trick, Brouwer was key in Alex Ovechkin’s goal that opened the scoring against the Lightning. He was firmly planted in front of Dwayne Roloson’s crease as Ovechkin fired his wrist shot from the point.

Then, late in the contest as things grew chippy between the two Southeast Division rivals, Brouwer was at the center of a fracas. He checked Martin St. Louis into the boards and the Lightning alternate captain fell awkwardly on the play, drawing the ire of Steven Stamkos, who rushed in to stand up for his teammate.

Brouwer wound up with two minutes each for boarding and roughing, while Stamkos received just a roughing minor, but the Capitals’ winger said he understood why the league’s leading goal-scorer rushed over.

“I just went in hard and finished my check like I usually do,” Brouwer said. “I don’t know if Marty turned, but it’s good to see he’s okay. When Stamkos came in I know he’s not much of a fighter. He’s just sticking up for his teammate and you’ve got to commend him for that.”

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