PITTSBURGH -- Fifty goals always has been a sacred number in the NHL. Ever since Maurice "Rocket" Richard scored 50 goals in a season for the first time during the 1944-45 season, the 50-goal plateau has been the benchmark in defining an elite-level scorer.
"I would have liked to have gotten 50 in my career," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma joked Tuesday. "I would have joked that I got 50 when I got to that point, even if it took me 10 years."
But Bylsma -- a defense-first grinder during his nine NHL seasons -- managed just 19 goals in 429 games. Despite his lack of goal-scoring acumen, Bylsma still can enjoy the three-way race for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy that will rage across North America during the season's final week.
Bylsma also is curious if the winner will top the 50-goal mark this season. Each of the past four winners of the trophy have topped the 50-goal plateau, but that is not a given this time around.
Crosby vs. Ovechkin (Getty Images)
Bylsma's star player, Sidney Crosby, leads the derby heading into Tuesday's action with 47 goals. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals -- Pittsburgh's opponent Tuesday night at Mellon Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) -- is the stalking horse, just one goal behind. Tampa Bay's young gun, Steven Stamkos, also has 46 goals.
Can Crosby, who has three games remaining beginning with Tuesday's showdown with the Caps, hold onto his lead and win an unlikely goal-scoring title after being known as a pass-first, shoot-later player in his first four NHL seasons?
Will Ovechkin, who has just 1 goal in his past five games, find his scoring groove and win his third-straight Richard Trophy despite having just two games left in his season? Or will Stamkos steal the glory at the end with a strong finishing kick?
Crosby says he is not thinking about the Richard Trophy, but rather about winning each of Pittsburgh's final three games as they try to hold off New Jersey for the Atlantic Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He also says he has not thought about a possible first 50-goal season, which would put him in a fraternity that includes icons like Richard, Gretzky, Selanne and Ovechkin, to name just a few.
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"I'd love to score every game," Crosby said Tuesday morning. "I'd love to get two every game, but that is why it is tough to score in the League. It's something that you have to work through. It's something that is not going to be perfect. It's not going to be a perfect goal every two games or every game or whatever it is. It is always going to be a work in progress. That's why, when it is tough like this, you have to find ways and be productive in other areas, too.
"There're a lot of guys in the League that are goal scorers and are talented that way and you see that it is not easy to do that consistently for anybody. That's the challenge you face when you play at a high level like this."
Despite Crosby's protestations to the contrary, Bylsma believes the big 5-0 likely has crept into Crosby's head on more than one occasion.
"I think every player wants to get to 50 if they are in or around that," Bylsma said. "I'm not going to put words in his mouth, but every player that ever puts the skates on, when you get to 40 and you have time, you are thinking about 50."
Ovechkin certainly is thinking about 50 goals.
"I think everybody wants to get 50 goals," Ovechkin said Tuesday. "Right now, it's pretty hard to get. I think every game I have a couple of chances to get goals, but they haven't been going in."
Ovechkin has topped the 50-goal mark in three of his four NHL seasons. He knows he likely will have to score a few goals -- putting him in the 50-goal neighborhood -- in the final two games of the season if he hopes to pass Crosby.
And make no mistake -- Ovechkin wants to pass Crosby. He likes the sound of back-to-back-to-back Richard trophies. But just as importantly, the idea of denying his biggest rival -- Crosby -- a shot at a piece of hardware has to appeal to Ovechkin as well.
"Of course it is important (to beat Crosby), but, like I said, it is just the regular season," Ovechkin said. "In my mind -- and probably in his mind, too -- (I) think about playoffs and not scoring leaders and goals.
"But, like I said, everybody wants to win, so, why not?"