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Backstrom hat trick powers Capitals past Lightning

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- Throughout Nicklas Backstrom's NHL career, the Washington Capitals forward has preferred to avoid the spotlight, content to quietly contribute instead.

He couldn't avoid it Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A spotlight literally shined down on him after each of his three goals, and his first regular-season hat trick helped Washington to a 4-2 win.

"It's a great feeling. It doesn't happen a lot that I score three goals in a game," Backstrom said. "It was fun. The biggest thing was we got two points. That was what we needed."

Eric Fehr scored into an empty net, and Braden Holtby made 26 saves for Washington (14-10-5).

Tyler Johnson and Matt Carle scored for Tampa Bay (19-9-3), which lost to Washington for the second time this week. The Capitals won 5-3 on Tuesday.

The first period prominently featured Washington's power play, which received three opportunities. Tampa Bay killed each of them, holding the Capitals' NHL-leading power play to three shots.

The Lightning seemingly took a 1-0 lead with 10:04 remaining in the period when Steven Stamkos scored into a wide-open net, but the goal was rescinded because Lightning forward Ryan Callahan made contact with Holtby during the play.

"I feel like we're writing the book on it and I don't know what the right answer is because it's just a different explanation every time, so it's really frustrating," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of his reaction to the disallowed goal. "I don't know how, in my eyes, my eyes I guess only, I don't know how that's not a goal."

Stamkos' waved-off goal would have been Tampa Bay's first shot of the game, which it didn't officially get until 15:00.

"Obviously, we wanted it to be counted, we wanted it to go in because it's a big momentum swing," Callahan said. "But it doesn't and you have to live with that and continue to play."

Tampa Bay controlled the early portion of the second period, earning a full two minutes of 5-on-3 power-play time after Mike Green hooked Nikita Kucherov, and Alex Ovechkin received a roughing penalty after the whistle.

Holtby made a stellar save on Callahan when he attempted to poke in the puck, reaching behind him and scooping it up with his stick inches from the goal line.

"I've said it before that that is a goaltender's job," Holtby said. "Along with the [penalty killers] who are asked to do a job there, that's where we can make our mark on a game, similar to the skill guys on a power play."

With momentum after the successful penalty kill, the Capitals took a 1-0 lead at 10:33 on Backstrom's sixth goal of the season. He collected a loose puck and backhanded a shot from the slot past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop.

"Sometimes he flies under the radar a little bit when you play with such a high-profile guy like [Ovechkin], but [he's an] unbelievable player," said Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who assisted on Backstrom's first goal. "He has such patience with the puck that's unmatched. I can't see anybody else that does it as well as he does."

In the final minutes of the second period, Washington's first line rushed up ice, with Tom Wilson leaving a drop pass for Backstrom in the slot. Bishop stopped Backstrom's shot and Ovechkin's follow-up chance, but Backstrom deftly tucked the rebound into the goal at 18:40 with a quick backhand-forehand recovery as the puck trickled toward the outside of the right post.

Backstrom completed the natural hat trick at 2:17 of the third period with a wrist shot. The 27-year-old scored three goals in Game 2 of the Capitals' Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He was outstanding," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When we needed something to happen, he made it happen today. That's what Nicky seems to do."

Johnson finished an impressive passing sequence by roofing a shot over Holtby's left shoulder to spoil his shutout at 15:46. Carle made it 3-2 at 17:29, beating Holtby with a deke from the top of the left circle.

Fehr scored an empty-net goal from just inside the red line with 39 seconds remaining.

"I aged. I aged a lot," Trotz said jokingly. "It sort of just started right after we scored the third goal, we gave up a puck and [Holtby] bailed us there. We didn't manage the puck very well. At the end there, we kept icing it. We just didn't show much poise, enough poise in critical moments there."

The Capitals, winners of four of five, are off until Tuesday, when they play the Florida Panthers. The Lightning continue a five-game road trip Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We're playing better," Backstrom said. "We've got better control overall out there with everything. Everyone is stepping up. Everyone is playing good, playing hard. … We're coming out flying these days. That's good. That's exactly what we need."

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