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Ovechkin scores in return from suspension

by Brian Compton
Welcome back, Alex Ovechkin.

The Russian star returned from his two-game suspension and quickly deposited his 45th goal of the season as the Washington Capitals skated away with a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night.

The two-time defending Hart Trophy winner took a long pass off the boards from Nicklas Backstrom, skated in on a breakaway and beat Antero Niittymaki to give the Caps a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Ovechkin leads the League with 97 points.

Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin also scored for Washington (48-14-10).

"It's always nice to go back and play hockey, and score goals," Ovechkin said. "The atmosphere was pretty nice but it was too hot, especially in the second and third period."

Vincent Lecavalier had the lone goal for Tampa Bay, which has lost six in a row and is quickly fading out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

"It's hard. In life this is where you test your character and bounce back," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "I don't know what else to say. The guys worked hard."

Ovechkin was suspended two games for shoving Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell from behind and sending him into the boards last Sunday. Campbell broke his collarbone and ribs, and is expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season.

Fleischmann scored the first goal for the Capitals just 2:40 into the game when he took a pass in the slot from Dan Steckel and caught Niittymaki out of position.

Tampa Bay tied it at 6:54 when Lecavalier took a feed from Teddy Purcell and poked it past Jose Theodore (33 saves) for his 22nd goal of the season.

Theodore was sensational the rest of the way, though. He turned aside several odd-man rushes, including a point-blank shot by Lecavalier midway through the first period and another by Martin St. Louis in the second.

"I thought (Jose) was outstanding," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I felt so comfortable with him in the net. It was a really good feeling to have."

Semin scored 7:20 into the third period, when he poked Brooks Laich's rebound past Niittymaki for his 33rd goal of the season.

Theodore hopes to be Washington's No. 1 goaltender when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way next month. Theodore, who has made 18 appearances without a regulation loss, is hopeful he will beat out Semyon Varlamov for the job.

"That's (Boudreau's) call," Theodore said. "I just like to play the game and do my stuff. The rest is really out of control."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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