TAMPA, Fla. – On a night Alex Ovechkin scored in his return from a two-game suspension, another NHL MVP was the player of the game.
Jose Theodore made a case to be the Washington Capitals playoff goalie with 33 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
“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.”
Theodore showed the form that earned him the Hart and Vezina trophies with the Montreal Canadiens in 2002 and kept the Lightning frustrated.
The Lightning (29-31-12) lost all four games on their homestand. They scored only five goals in those four games against playoff teams.
“It’s hard. In life this is where you test your character and bounce back,” Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said. “I don’t know what else to say. The guys worked hard.”
Ovechkin scored midway through the first period when he took a long pass off the boards from Nicklas Backstrom, skated in on a breakaway and easily scored on Antero Niittymaki to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
It was Ovechkin’s 45th goal of the season and his NHL-leading 97th point.
The two-time defending MVP was suspended after shoving Chicago Blackhawks defenceman 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.
“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.”
Washington (47-14-10) took a 1-0 lead just 2:40 in the game when Tomas Fleischmann took a pass in the slot from Dan Steckel and caught Niittymaki out of position.
Tampa Bay stormed back when Vincent Lecavalier took a feed from Teddy Purcell and pushed a shot past Theodore to tie the game at 1-1.
From that point on it was Theodore making key saves time and again. Later in the first period he robbed Lecavalier on a point-blank shot during a power play. In the second, he stoned Martin St. Louis on a 2-on-1 rush.
Theodore has played well lately and could be in line to be the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie when the playoffs begin. He has gone 18 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss.
“That’s (Boudreau’s) call,” Theodore said of his competition with Semyon Varlamov. “I just like to play the game and do my stuff. The rest is really out of control.”
Alexander Semin provided an insurance goal midway through the third period when he sent in a rebound of Brooks Laich’s slap shot.
Notes: When asked whether Theodore was separating himself from Varlamov, Boudreau responded, “The way he is playing, he certainly is.” … The Lightning were 0-for-5 on the power play. … Tampa Bay dropped into a tie for 11th in the Eastern Conference standings and are six points behind eighth-place Boston. … East-leading Washington is 10 points ahead of Chicago in the race for the best record in the NHL.