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Hot Ovechkin doing his best to get Caps into playoffs

Wednesday, 03.26.2008 / 9:52 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - Columnist

The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin became the first player in 12 years to reach the 60-goal mark. Ovechkin Video
Alex Ovechkin is doing everything he can to make his first appearance in the NHL playoffs.

Ovechkin became the first NHL player in 12 years to reach the 60-goal mark when he scored twice in a 5-3 victory over Atlanta. His second goal not only gave him the milestone — it also triggered a four-goal rally in the final 8:30 as the Caps overcame a 3-1 deficit. He has eight multiple-point performances in his last 12 games, and added his team-record 61st goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win at Carolina on Tuesday.

Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals, points, power-play goals and game-winners. He’s also plus-24, a huge jump after finishing last season at minus-19, a sign that his defensive play has improved. The Caps are two points behind Boston for the last playoff berth; if they don’t make it, it won’t be because Ovechkin failed them.
Five up — Five players who’ve been producing:

Johan Franzen — A rash of injuries on Detroit’s front line has given Franzen a chance to play — and he’s making the most of it. Franzen’s game-winner in the Wings’ 2-1 victory Tuesday was his 11th in 11 games. He has 15 points after getting just 18 in 56 games while playing on the third line.

Jarome Iginla — Calgary’s captain has carried his team into first place in the Northwest Division. He had three goals in Saturday’s big win against Minnesota and one in Tuesday’s come-from-behind victory against Vancouver, giving him 11 this month.

Brian Campbell — Of all the deadline-day deals, San Jose’s acquisition of Campbell has been the best so far. San Jose has been almost unbeatable since landing Campbell from Buffalo, and he’s scored 13 points in 14 games.

Daniel Briere — Briere’s hot streak has coincided with a four-game winning streak that has all but assured the Philadelphia Flyers a playoff berth. Briere had the game-tying goal against the Rangers on Tuesday and is 4-3-7 in his last four games.

Jason Pominville — Buffalo may come up short in the race for the playoffs, but Pominville is doing everything he can to carry the Sabres back to the postseason. He scored again in Tuesday night’s 6-3 loss to Ottawa and has four goals and 11 points in his last five games.

Five down — Five players who’ve been struggling:

Radim Vrbata — Vrbata was one of the big reasons the Phoenix Coyotes were able to make a run at a playoff berth; he had 27 goals in his first 54 games. But since getting a goal and two assists on Feb. 18, Vrbata’s scoring touch has disappeared; he hasn’t scored in his last 17 games.

Kristian Huselius — The Calgary forward’s second half has been nowhere near as good as his first. Huselius has one assist in his last four games and just three goals since Jan. 16, when he scored his 21st of the season. Coach Mike Keenan has cut his ice time sharply; he averaged only seven minutes in the Flames’ previous three games before being scratched Tuesday.

Mike Fisher — One of Ottawa’s biggest problems has been a lack of scoring from anyone not named Alfredsson, Spezza or Heatley. That includes Fisher, who has just two goals (both on March 8) and one assist (in last Saturday’s loss to Toronto) in his last 22 games.

Radek Bonk — Bonk’s offensive production has vanished. Before getting a goal in Nashville’s 3-0 win over Columbus on Tuesday, he had gone without a point in his last 12 games and had scored just one goal in his last 41.

Brad Richards — Richards had a historic debut with Dallas, earning five assists in his first game with the Stars. Since then, however, he hasn’t done much offensively, scoring twice, adding two assists and going minus-4 in eight games — not what the Stars anticipated when they got him from Tampa Bay on trade-deadline day.

Injuries, news and notes — Best news of the week: Florida’s Richard Zednik skated on his own March 19, his first time on ice since being accidentally cut in the throat by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate Feb. 10. However, he still hasn’t been cleared to practice again and realistically won’t play until next season.

Out — Minnesota defenseman Kurtis Foster had surgery after sustaining a broken left leg March 19 in San Jose. … The New York Rangers will be without checking center Blair Betts for 2-3 weeks after he had foot surgery late last week. The Rangers also were without No. 1 center Scott Gomez (upper body injury) and defenseman Michal Rozsival (leg strain) for Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia. … Edmonton goaltender Mathieu Garon has sat for six games with an upper body injury. …. Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart is out for at least the remainder of the regular season with a broken finger. … Montreal will be without top-pair defenseman Mike Komisarek for at least another two weeks. He sustained a lower body injury last Thursday against Boston. … Columbus may have lost two forwards for the rest of the season with injuries in the same game. Jared Boll injured his hip March 19, the same night Dan Fritsche broke his left hand. … Florida forward Ville Peltonen missed Tuesday with a broken toe. The injury gave Jozef Stumpel a chance to return to the lineup. He had been out since early February with a shoulder injury. …  Ottawa lost center Chris Kelly for at least three weeks when he sustained a hairline fracture in his right leg last Saturday. … Boston center Marc Savard will miss a couple of games after sustaining a back injury Saturday. … Tampa Bay lost defenseman Paul Ranger for the season with a shoulder injury. Goalie Mike Smith was scratched from Tuesday’s game against Florida due to a left knee injury sustained in practice Monday. … San Jose’s Jonathan Cheechoo sat out Tuesday’s game in Phoenix with head and neck soreness. … Injury-plagued Toronto defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is gone for the rest of the regular season with a torn groin muscle.

Returning — Colorado’s Peter Forsberg returned Monday night after missing six games with a strained groin. … Ottawa’s Chris Neil returned Saturday after sitting for 13 games due to a knee injury. … Boyd Devereaux returned to Toronto’s lineup Tuesday. He had been out since Feb. 19 with a knee injury. … Detroit forward Dan Cleary, out nine weeks with a broken jaw, was back in the lineup Tuesday. Kris Draper returned Saturday after missing five games with a groin injury. The Wings say forwards Valtteri Filppula (groin/knee), Tomas Holmstrom (groin) are close to returning, and forward Darren McCarty (ribs) could be back this weekend. … Boston got defenseman Zdeno Chara back from an upper body injury March 20; he had missed nearly two weeks. … New Jersey forward Patrik Elias returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing four games — two with a knee problem and two more with the flu. … Buffalo defensemen Jaroslav Spacek (chest) and Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder) are skating again and could be back by the weekend. Another defenseman, Nathan Paetsch, returned Tuesday after missing four games due to a concussion. … Minnesota center Eric Belanger, out since March 7 with a broken toe, returned Monday. … Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi returned Monday after missing 11 games due to a broken finger.

The Penguins' Sidney Crosby remains sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
Still outSidney Crosby remains sidelined with ankle problems. He’s played only three games since going down with a high ankle sprain Jan. 18. The Penguins’ Gary Roberts, who’s trying to make it back from a broken leg, suffered a setback this week when he fell while skating. He’ll sit until next week. … Buffalo center Tim Connolly’s season is over; he’s having surgery to remove bone chips from the ailing hip that has bothered him all season. … Dallas All-Star defenseman Sergei Zubov, sidelined with a foot injury that required surgery, has been skating again. The Stars would like to get him back in the lineup before the end of the regular season. Another defenseman, Philippe Boucher, still is recovering from a shoulder injury and might be able to return before the regular season ends. … Vancouver defenseman Aaron Miller is out for the season with a torn labrum sustained March 6 and has not healed. … Colorado is without forward Scott Parker, who’s out indefinitely with an injured left ankle. Defenseman Adam Foote, who’s been plagued with a sore hip since returning from Columbus, didn’t play Monday night. … Toronto still is without its top two centers, Mats Sundin (groin) and Nik Antropov (knee).  Both are likely to miss at least a couple more games. … Nashville center David Legwand continues to be idled by the foot injury that knocked him out of the lineup March 7. … Anaheim’s Corey Perry (torn right quadriceps tendon) has gotten the OK to resume weight training. Another forward, Ryan Carter, had the cast removed form his broken wrist Monday and might be back before the end of the regular season. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere missed road games Friday and Saturday with back spasms.  … San Jose hopes to get forward Ryan Clowe, who had knee surgery in late October, back in the lineup before the playoffs. … St. Louis forward Dan Hinote may not play again this season due to a muscle injury in his side. He’s not expected to need surgery.

The week ahead
— It’s all interdivision play this week; in fact, there’s only one game on the remaining schedule that doesn’t match two teams from within the same division.

There are no more NHL games in the state of Florida after Monday; the Panthers play their last home game March 29 and Tampa Bay finishes its home schedule two nights later.

Games to watch:

Los Angeles at Anaheim (March 26) — The two Southern California rivals are far apart in the standings, but the Kings have more than held their own against the defending Cup champs. The teams have split their six meetings this season.

Dallas at San Jose (March 27) — The Sharks have passed Dallas and moved into first place in the Pacific Division race.

The Vancouver Canucks make their final regular season visit to Minnesota  on March 28.
Vancouver at Minnesota (March 28) — The Canucks make their last visit to the Xcel Energy Center as two of the four teams battling for the Northwest Division title meet for the final time this season.

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (March 30) — The Penguins host their Atlantic Division rivals in NBC’s Game of the Week; the two teams meet again in New York on Monday.

Montreal at Ottawa (April 1) — The top two teams in the Northeast Division meet for the final time this season. Ottawa will try to avenge a 7-5 loss at Montreal a week earlier.

Tough week ahead:

Atlanta Thrashers — Atlanta has a pair of back-to-backs, sandwiched around two nights off, giving the Thrashers four games in six nights in four cities.

Dallas Stars —The Stars have three games in less than 96 hours in California, starting in San Jose, followed by weekend visits to Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Edmonton Oilers
— Edmonton has three division road games in four nights before playing its last home game Tuesday night against Calgary.

Easy week ahead:

Anaheim Ducks
— The defending Stanley Cup champions have three home games before getting a rare five-day break.

Detroit Red Wings — The Wings have a quiet week, with only a pair of home games, against St. Louis on Friday and Nashville on Sunday afternoon in an eight-day stretch.

Philadelphia Flyers — Philadelphia completes a three-game swing through the New York City area with visits to the Devils on Friday and Islanders on Saturday, then gets three days off.

Quote of the Day

Yeah, it was a pretty special moment for me. Today was my Dad's [55th] birthday. I have a lot of family in town, so it was a special moment for me to score my first one today. A win definitely would have capped it off, but you can't have everything.

— Sabres rookie Jack Eichel after scoring a goal in his National Hockey League debut
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