Fifty-goal seasons don't come along that often in the NHL, but Alex Ovechkin
is making them look routine.
Ovechkin reached the half-century mark for the third time in his four seasons and Mike Green scored twice, including the game-winner, as the Washington Capitals used a three-goal third period to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
After Green put the Capitals ahead 1:48 into the third, Michael Nylander and Matt Bradley added insurance goals against Mike McKenna. The win moved Washington one point ahead of idle New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference, although the Devils have three games in hand.
It took Ovechkin less than eight minutes to pick up No. 50 and give Washington a 1-0 lead. He carried the puck up the right side after taking a Nicklas Backstrom pass, deked Tampa's Matt Pettinger out of position and beat McKenna with a wrist shot from the right circle at 7:43.
"It feels pretty good actually," Ovechkin said. "Today was a lucky goal, I think. It's done right now. No pressure. Nothing."
He eschewed his normal post-goal routine of leaping against the glass in celebration in favor of a more choreographed routine in which he dropped his stick on the ice and pretended to warm his hands over it. Tampa coach Rick Tocchet was not a fan.
"I think he's a terrific player. He went down a notch in my books after that," Tocchet said. "It's not something I like. It's hard for me to accept, to see something like that in our building."
While some other players -- notably rival Sidney Crosby of the Penguins -- have complained about Ovechkin's penchant for showmanship, even his own coach seemed a bit surprised by the display.
"He has never done that with me that I've seen," Bruce Boudreau said. "He celebrates, but I think that was a little planned out."
While he may not have been a fan of this particular celebration, Boudreau said he expects to see more of them.
"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 70 before he's done yet."
Ovechkin set a Capitals' record with his third 50-goal season and has 213 career goals in 315 regular-season games. He led the League last season with a career-high 65 goals, and could be the only player to reach 50 this season -- New Jersey's Zach Parise is second with 41 and has 12 games remaining.
Green could be on the way to a milestone of his own. His two goals gave him 27 for the season with nine games remaining -- only seven defenseman in League history have scored 30 goals in a season, the last one being another Washington blueliner, Kevin Hatcher, who did it in 1992-93.
It's safe to say that if Green joins the exclusive club, his celebration will be a bit more muted.
"He told me he was going to do it," Green said. "He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I'd join in on that. I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does."
No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa Bay, which rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits to enter the third period tied. It didn't last long, with Green putting the Capitals back in front off assists from Viktor Kozlov and Ovechkin. The same pair set up Nylander for a power-play goal at 7:38 and Bradley capped the scoring at 12:26.
Simeon Varlamov stopped 28 shots for his third career win in as many starts.
Stamkos answered Ovechkin's goal by scoring on the power play with 2:21 left in the first. Green got the lead back for the Capitals less than 10 seconds before intermission, but St. Louis beat Varlamov with 4:06 left in the second for his 27th of the season.
Material from wire services was used in this report.