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Wednesday Night Hockey

Ovechkin, Pastrnak matchup highlights Bruins-Capitals showdown

Top two goal-scorers face off in battle of NHL's best teams on 'Wednesday Night Hockey'

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- David Pastrnak is first in the NHL goal-scoring race with 25, but the Boston Bruins forward knows his lead might not be safe.

Not with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin looming in second with 21 goals.

"Four goals for Ovi is nothing," Pastrnak said after the Bruins practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday.

Pastrnak and Ovechkin will go head-to-head when the Bruins play the Capitals at Capital One Arena on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS). 

It will not only be a showdown of the top two goal-scorers in the NHL, but a matchup of the top two teams in the League standings, too. The Capitals (22-5-5) are first with 49 points and the Bruins (20-5-6) are second with 46.

"I think [Wednesday's] game is going to be very exciting for both teams," Ovechkin said. "I think we're playing good hockey right now, both teams."

Over his previous 14 NHL seasons, Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals a record eight times and is one off the League record shared by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy of nine seasons with at least 50 goals. So the 34-year-old is used to being at the front of the goal race.

But Ovechkin seemed to welcome the idea of a younger gun such as the 23-year-old Pastrnak taking up the goal-scoring mantle. 

"I'm happy for guys who get those results," Ovechkin said. "The League's changed. You can't be always No. 1. At some point, somebody is going to get you, and you just have to try to do your best thing that you can do."

Video: TBL@WSH: Ovechkin scores PPG in 3rd period

Skating on Boston's top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak set a frantic pace, scoring his 25 goals in the Bruins' first 27 games before being held without a goal in his past four games. The last player to reach 25 goals in 27 games or fewer was Jaromir Jagr, who had 25 goals in 26 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996-97.

After scoring an NHL career-high 38 goals last season, Pastrnak is on pace to finish with 66 this season. He'd be the first Bruins player to reach the 50-goal mark since Cam Neely scored 50 in 49 games in 1993-94.

"I think he's played great hockey this year," Ovechkin said. "Their line is connecting well, Marchand, Bergeron and [Pastrnak]. He's a great shooter, a great skater and he's on the next level this year."

But Pastrnak knows he has a ways to go to reach Ovechkin's level. Since 2012-13, there have been five 50-goal seasons in the NHL and Ovechkin has four of them, including an NHL-high 51 goals last season. Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, who had 50 goals last season, is the only other player to reach 50 over the previous seven seasons.

With 679 goals in 1,116 career regular-season games, Ovechkin is five behind Teemu Selanne (684) for 11th in NHL history and is closing in on becoming the eighth player all-time to score 700 goals.

"Obviously, he's an unbelievable goal-scorer, and he's been doing it for a lot of years," Pastrnak said of Ovechkin. "We all know what he's capable of. He's a big key for their team, so we need to be ready."

Capitals coach Todd Reirden and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy each noted how Ovechkin has evolved as he's aged to find ways to maintain his goal-scoring pace. Reirden pointed to Ovechkin's goal in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, which came with Washington down 2-0 at the time, as an example.

"Who scores the goal going to the front of the net, to the dirty area to get us behind by a goal?" Reirden said. "Did he score those type of goals eight years ago, 10 years ago? Maybe not as much. But now he realizes he's had to transform his game. He's had to figure out ways to improve."

Video: NYR@BOS: Pastrnak rifles quick goal from right circle

In contrast, Pastrnak's flair for scoring off exciting one-on-one plays and rushes remind of a young Ovechkin, who scored 52 goals as a rookie in 2005-06 and an NHL career-high 65 in 2007-08.

"David will still try more one-on-one moves than maybe Ovi," Cassidy said. "That could have been Ovi 10 years ago as well. Now, he's kind of settled in on what works for him or maybe age has sort of prevented it. I don't know. But [Pastrnak] still has a lot of that creative juices in him. He still wants to try those."

Pastrnak and Ovechkin playing against each other will only add to the marquee matchup Wednesday, and perhaps stir the competitive juices in each.

"Obviously, Ovi's farther along than [Pastrnak], but [Pastrnak] is now being talked about in the same breath," Cassidy said. "So, I think it's good for the fans. They enjoy seeing two top guys go at it. Only [Pastrnak] can answer it, but I assume he looks at it as a challenge."

Ovechkin also has a way of elevating his play in big moments. And no matter the kind words he said about Pastrnak, facing him Wednesday in a game between the League's top two teams in points seems to qualify.

"I don't know," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "I feel like Ovi likes these kind of matchups."

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