|Watch Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals take on the Pittsburgh Penguins this Sunday, March 9th, on NBC. Game Preview|
Ovechkin became the fastest NHL player to score 50 goals since Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux both did it for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Mogilny did it for the Vancouver Canucks in the 1995-96 season.
"All players want to score 50 goals or something like that because it's very hard to do," Ovechkin said. "You know, it's NHL, and it's hard. Especially when you score 50 goals, you are happy. I'm actually happy, very happy right now."
Ovechkin reached the milestone in the Washington Capitals’ 67th game of the season, the fastest since Jagr and Lemieux did it in 59 games and Mogilny buried his 50th in his 63rd game.
But the buzz around Ovechkin recently hasn't only been about the goals. The 22-year-old also has the Caps in position to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"You know, it's all in my mind right now to help team win because we have situation we can push forward and we can go forward," Ovechkin said. "If I score goal and we win, I will be happy. But, you know, right now it's all about (winning). If I score 60 and we go to (the) playoffs, I will be very happy."
The Capitals hasn't qualified for the playoffs since the 2002-03 season, when Washington lost in six games in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Playing in the postseason this spring will also make everyone in downtown Washington happy, because the way the regular season started, it didn't look like there was going to be any hockey being played in mid-April at the Verizon Center.
According to Ovechkin, all that changed on Nov. 22, 2007 when the Capitals hired Bruce Boudreau as the club's new coach after the team’s 6-14-1 start.
"I think the key is he knows the guys very well because he was coaching in Hershey, and lots of guys play in Hershey," said Ovechkin, who has recorded 40 goals and 29 assists since Boudreau took over behind the bench. "He knows how he has to use some players. You know, he just changed our mentality, like we are not losers, we are good players, we are a good team, and we can beat anybody we want if we play how we can play."
Boudreau coached nine of the current Capitals in the minors, leading the Hershey Bears to the Eastern Conference championship and the Calder Cup finals in each of his first two seasons, winning the Calder Cup in 2006. Heading into the weekend, Boudreau had compiled a 26-14-7 record for the Caps, guiding the club out of the NHL's basement to the middle of a playoff race in the East. Boudreau and the Caps are looking to become the first team in NHL history to make the playoffs after standing in 14th or 15th place at the midpoint of the season.
While the turnaround may be surprising to everyone else, don't count Ovechkin and his teammates among them: "Actually, we're not surprised. We have a great team. We support each other. We play for each other. We know our goal."
And Ovechkin certainly knows how to score them.
Who's hot – Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has tallied eight points in his last nine games. In a 6-3 loss Wednesday night against the Hurricanes, Kovalchuk scored his 43rd goal of the season in his 65th game. … By picking up one goal and one assist against the Thrashers Wednesday, Carolina winger Erik Cole extended his points streak to three straight games. During the hot streak, Cole has five points in his last three games and seven points in his last five. … After going seven games without a goal, Washington's Alex Ovechkin now has scored in three straight, including two in a 3-1 road win over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday. … Michel Ouellet has points in four of his last five games for the Lightning. During the stretch, the Tampa Bay right winger has posted three goals and two assists. … No goaltender has been hotter than Florida's Craig Anderson. The Panthers' netminder recorded consecutive shutouts against the Islanders and Bruins, stopping a combined 93 shots in the two games. Anderson started off the streak by turning away all 53 shots New York fired his way Sunday night in a 1-0 win and followed that perfect effort with another standout performance, where he stopped 40 shots in a 1-0 overtime victory in Boston.
Southeast Quotes -- "These last two games have just been terrific. As much as you want to say it's just one guy, it's been everybody. The little things you might not notice, I recognize, the coaches recognize, and the other guys recognize what guys are doing. We're making sure were getting the pucks out, we're making big blocks, we're making sure the puck doesn't get to the net, and a lot of the time I am seeing the shots, which is a credit to the guys in front of me."
-- Florida backup goalie Craig Anderson on recording back-to-back shutouts in his last two starts for the Panthers.
"Every two points are important. It doesn't matter whether it's a division game or not. We didn't have a great second period, but we came back pretty strong in the third period."
-- Hurricanes forward Erik Cole said after Carolina handed the Thrashers their eighth straight loss Wednesday night in Atlanta.
A look ahead -- On Friday, the Thrashers host Minnesota and the Lightning travel to New Jersey. … Saturday, the Capitals are in Boston, the Panthers host the Thrashers and the Hurricanes welcome the Sabres. … Sunday, the Capitals are home to Pittsburgh and the Lightning travel to Columbus.