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Cheers, jeers for Ovechkin celebration

by Mike G. Morreale
You get the feeling that if Alex Ovechkin really did have an opportunity to dip his hockey stick in kerosene and ignite it after becoming the first 50-goal scorer this season, he would have obliged.

Still, his playful gesture after scoring his 50th at the 7:43 mark of the first period en route to a 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday certainly was a hot topic at the water cooler this morning, eh?

In case you missed it, Ovechkin became the first Capitals player to score 50 goals three times in a career, and he joined Anaheim's Teemu Selanne as the only active players with three 50-goal seasons.

After taking a pass from linemate Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin shot past three defenders at the Lightning blue line and fired a wrist shot that eluded goaltender Mike McKenna. What ensued was an even bigger spectacle as Ovechkin followed through with a plan to put his stick on the ice and pretend he couldn't pick it up because it was too hot.

"It's done right now, no pressure, nothing," Ovechkin said of scoring his 50th. "Me, Jose Theodore, Backstrom and (Mike Green) said if I score goal, Jose told me just put the stick on the ice and try like it's so hot. Backie stopped and Greenie stopped, so I have to do it myself."

While the celebration may have delighted Caps fans, it wasn't viewed with similar fervor by Lightning fans at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, who booed his antics.

"I think he's a terrific player (but) he came down a notch in my book after that," said Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet. "I grew up in the old days in the (Philadelphia) Spectrum where that first period, after that happened, it might have been a three-hour first period. It's not something I like (and) it's hard for me to see that in our building."

Said Lightning goalie McKenna: "I'm a traditionalist when it comes to hockey. I appreciate guys who play the game hard and are humble. (Ovechkin's celebration) is not something I've ever seen at the NHL level, I can say that. He's always exciting to watch. He's great for the game, but it's not something I would have done."

In the poll below, 54.32 percent of those responding liked the celebration, 45.68 percent did not, as of 4:27 p.m. Friday.

The 23-year-old Ovechkin now has 213 goals in 315 regular-season games. He won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie in 2005-06 when he scored 52 goals, connected for 46 in 2006-07 and struck for 65 last season when he won the Hart, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Art Ross trophies.

"He's the game's most dominant scorer, but to do that, especially on our ice, I took it as an insult," Lightning wing Ryan Malone told the Tampa Tribune. "It's embarrassing. This isn't football."

Green, whose two goals Thursday moved him within three of becoming the first NHL defenseman to score 30 in a season since Kevin Hatcher did it in 1992-93, was privy to Ovechkin's celebration.

"He told me he was going to do it," Green said. "He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I'd join in on that. I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does."

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he wasn't aware of Ovechkin's planned showmanship, but that he plans on speaking to him.

"I haven't said anything yet," Boudreau said after Thursday's game. "It was his 50th, so maybe he was thinking of something special, I don't know. He's never done that with me that I've seen. I personally don't like it as much."

But Boudreau was quick to praise his superstar forward.

"He's got a shot that's second to none and he's got a determination that's second to none," he said. "There's going to be more seasons where he's going to get more than 50, more than 60 and maybe even in the 70 range before he's done."

It'll be interesting to hear what CBC analyst and former NHL coach Don Cherry has to say. Cherry recently criticized Ovechkin's colorful celebrations during his weekly segment with Ron MacLean on Coaches' Corner during Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada.

When asked if he felt Cherry might offer some commentary on his weekly show, Ovechkin smiled.

"Oh yeah, he's going to be (ticked) off for sure," he said. "I love it. I can't wait until he says something about me. Old coaches, old system, you know?"

Lost in the Ovechkin celebration was the fact that Backstrom's assist passed last season's rookie mark. Backstrom, now tied for fourth in the League with 56 assists, is four shy of recording the sixth 60-assist season in franchise history.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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