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Ovechkin's 60th Fuels Caps' Comeback

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Within the last couple of weeks, the NHL Network devoted a good portion of a day’s programming to the exploits of Caps’ star left wing Alex Ovechkin. Each of Ovechkin’s hat trick games from this season was shown in succession, displaying his signature performances of the 2007-08 season for those outside the Washington market to see.

The good folks at NHL network have another stellar Ovechkin performance to add to their own brimming library of masterpiece theater after the 22-year-old’s exploits on Friday night in Atlanta.

With the Caps’ season hanging in the balance, Ovechkin turned in another memorable night's work, one that included his 59th and 60th goals of the season. He became the 19th player in NHL history to achieve that lofty plateau and the first in the last 12 years. Ovechkin’s 60-goal season is the 38th in NHL history.

He also added a pair of assists, including the primary helper on Nicklas Backstrom’s game-winner in a must-win game for Washington.

“It’s always fun to score goals,” says Ovechkin, “especially when it’s important goals. It was a very important goal for my team right now. It doesn’t matter if I don’t score and somebody [else] score. I’ll be happy, too. But 60 is 60.”

The gregarious left wing said he felt no pressure with the 60 milestone, but admitted that was not the case a couple weeks back when he was striving to reach the 50-goal mark for the second time in his three-year NHL career.

“I feel more pressure when 50 was coming,” Ovechkin admits. “Right now I just don’t think about personal stats. It’s all about team."

As usual, Ovechkin tried to steer talk of his own exploits to discussion of the team's brilliant comeback, its first when trailing after 40 minutes of play this season. The Capitals are now 1-26-2 in games when they trail after two periods this season.

“I tell you, we have this chance and we have to take this chance," declares Ovechkin. "We just have to take every point every night. We play terrible in Chicago and right now we just play I think best period in our season. We just dominated them.”

With 158 goals in his career, Ovechkin has more than any other player in the league in the last three seasons. He is four goals shy of bumping longtime Capital Kelly Miller out of the team’s all-time top 10. Miller is currently clinging to 10th place on the team’s all-time goals list with 162. Ovechkin still has six games remaining this season and has played in 239 contests in his NHL career. Miller needed 940 games to score his 162 goals.

Ovechkin’s linemate and countryman Viktor Kozlov played with Pavel Bure, another Russian who reached the 60-goal plateau.

“They’re two different players, Alex and Pavel,” says Kozlov. “Alex is more physical. It’s hard to say but they’re both great players. I don’t know what to say, I’m just very happy for Alex to score 60 goals. How many years nobody score 60 goals, 11, 12 years? So he is completely worth it and I am very happy for him.”

A dozen or so years ago, Sergei Fedorov was among the best Russian stars in the game. Now he is an elder statesmen on the Washington team, a friend, mentor and advisor to a team of impressionable and talented young players.

Fedorov won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP and the Lester Pearson Trophy (awarded to the league’s most outstanding player, as voted on by the players in the league) in the same season, 1993-94. Fedorov nearly notched 60 that season, finishing with 56 goals and 120 points.

“A lot of goals, a lot of ice time, a lot of fast-paced kind of games,” says Fedorov when asked to recall those days. “I felt great physically. I felt very sharp out there on the ice playing those minutes and scoring that much. I think Alex is feeling good, too. He keeps scoring important goals. It’s a good burden while you’re that young.”

Ovechkin is averaging 23 minutes a night this season, up from the 21:37 he skated as a rookie in 2005-06 and the 21:23 he averaged last season.

Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet, acquired from Montreal on Feb. 26, is in the unique position of having surrendered some of his 60 goals and now being able to watch Ovechkin ply his unique brand of hockey pyrotechnics while wearing the same sweater.

“It’s hard,” says Huet. “Playing against him was really a team effort to contain him. Even though every team knows him, he’s quick and the shot is great. He is jumping on the ice. I’m glad he’s on my team now.”


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