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Ovechkin, Crosby exchange words

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while we wonder why the cast of "The Sopranos" skipped Sunday night's ceremony:

Stars collide
-- After the Washington Capitals' 5-2 win Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center, Alex Ovechkin shared his feelings about Sidney Crosby.

''What I can say about him?'' Ovechkin said. ''He is a good player, but he talks too much.''

After a little push-and-shove late in the second period, Crosby was seen yelling at Ovechkin, even as his helmet came off and a linesman tried to push him back toward the bench. The Caps' star responded with a dismissive, ''bye-bye'' wave of the left hand, practically taunting the Penguins' captain.

Crosby didn't appreciate the gesture.

''Like it or lump it, that's what he does,'' Crosby said. ''Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it.''

With the Caps up by three goals, Ovechkin gave Crosby a nudge with the shoulder, and Crosby retaliated by pushing Ovechkin's upper body over the boards at the Capitals' bench. Ovechkin then took his arm and gave Crosby a squeeze around the neck, and Crosby lost his helmet as linesman Greg Devorski stepped in.

Crosby, clearly agitated, was restrained by Devorski, and Ovechkin responded with his little wave as he hopped the boards onto the bench.

''I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind,'' Crosby said. ''So I just gave him a shot back. That's hockey, and he likes to run around these days, so that was it.''

Ovechkin had a message for Crosby: If you don't like it, try and do something about it. The teams will meet one more time this season on March 8 at Washington.

''I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty,'' Ovechkin said. ''That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem.''

Washington coach Bruce Boudreau simply hopes that Ovechkin will use the energy and feelings to his advantage on the ice. The Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers in an Eastern Conference showdown Tuesday night.

''I think he got frustrated because he wasn't getting the freedom he's had in this building before,'' Boudreau said of Crosby's fracas with Ovechkin. ''It adds spice. It's entertainment. It gets your blood boiling a bit. And every time Alex gets a little more excitable, it can be good for us.''

Storm brewing
-- The Carolina Hurricanes are making their move, and showing why they belong in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Matt Cullen's hat trick paced Paul Maurice's squad to its third-straight win Sunday, a 5-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. The win pulled the Hurricanes within one point of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They're also just four points out of fourth.

''I think the guys have realized the opportunity that we have in front of us," Cullen said after his first NHL hat trick. "We're right on the doorstep. We've talked a lot about bringing a playoff mentality right now, and we've seen that the last few games and gotten results.''

Seven years removed from guiding Carolina to the Stanley Cup Final, Maurice wants his team to look at the big picture. Sure, eighth place is only a point away. But why settle for eighth when you can finish fourth?

''You look at the standings and you say, 'You're always chasing eighth,''' Maurice said. ''But we're four points out of fourth. ... We've won four of the last five games. Had we not, it'd be over. Then you're sitting eight points back, and you're in a world of trouble. Being able to handle that, and not getting too excited about a win like today, that's the key to this time of the year.''

Long time coming -- Josh Harding's win-loss record in 2008-09 certainly hasn't been indicative of his play. But Sunday night, the Minnesota Wild's backup goaltender stole the show and was rewarded with a victory.

Harding made 44 saves and earned his first win in almost three months as the Wild tallied a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

''I think I've played well enough most games, but I wanted to show everybody I could play well enough to win,'' said Harding, who was 1-7-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. ''It's getting that win that's important.''

Perhaps it was a hunch that Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire had to go with Harding on Sunday, or maybe it was logic. Sunday's win helped Harding improve to 3-1 lifetime against the Blackhawks. Twenty-four hours earlier, Niklas Backstrom was asked to make 35 saves in a 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center.

''He was good,'' Lemaire said of Harding. ''We had a lot of scoring chances against us. Some of the saves he made, I don't know how he made them, but he made them. That's the bottom line.''

Dan Fritsche, who erased a 1-0 deficit in the second period with a power-play goal, was happy to see Harding get that elusive win.

''After he just kept making great save after great save, we just wanted to get the two points,'' Fritsche said. ''Not just for us, but for that guy.''
It's all about pride
-- It's basically a foregone conclusion that the Tampa Bay Lightning's season will end  April 11 at Atlanta. But that won't stop the club from playing with pride the rest of the way.

Rick Tocchet's team did just that Sunday, as Vaclav Prospal's power-play goal with 1:33 left broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Lightning an impressive 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins at the St. Pete Times Forum.
''I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty. That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem.'' -- Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin
''We're all playing for something,'' Prospal said. ''If a team like (Boston) coming into our building wouldn't be a challenge for us, then maybe we should get a new job.

''We're a lot of points out of a playoff spot. Right now, for us, it's just about playing hard every night and come out with an effort that will get us the win.''

It was an effort that left Bruins coach Claude Julien puzzled. After all, how is a team that boasts Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis 16 points out of a playoff spot in February?

''They didn't play like (a team near the bottom of the standings),'' Julien said. ''I think if all the cards were aligned, I don't think they be in the bottom of the League. You just have to look at the guys that they have up front. There's a lot of firepower there.''
Blueshirts fall again -- The capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden was cheering loudly before the puck dropped Sunday night, when the New York Rangers honored Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate by raising Nos. 3 and 9 to the rafters.

By the end of the game, the boo birds were out in full force, screaming for the heads of general manager Glen Sather and coach Tom Renney.

Michal Rozsival erased a 2-1 deficit at 19:20 of the third period, but the Blueshirts failed to gain a second point when Niklas Hagman scored a power-play goal three minutes into overtime in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto was given a man advantage when Blair Betts went off for hooking at 2:07 of the extra session.

The loss was New York's 10th in its last 12 games (2-7-3). Nineteen nights earlier, they were on the losing end of a 2-1 shootout decision to the Atlanta Thrashers after retiring Adam Graves' No. 9.

''It was an important goal and obviously an important point,'' Renney said. ''The fact that we got ourselves into that bind and got ourselves out of it is something to look at and build upon. It's pretty clear the team is not quitting. I think that's pretty important.''

But with just 21 games remaining in the season, the Rangers need to start winning -- and quickly. The Carolina Hurricanes have won three in a row and are eager to get into playoff position in the incredibly-tight Eastern Conference. Taking a pair of too-many-men penalties -- like the Rangers did Sunday -- just won't cut it.

"We've got to start winning. I think that's the bottom line," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "I don't think we need to say too much more than that. Again, we did some good things tonight, but a couple mistakes and a couple penalties we can't take."

Nonetheless, Renney was pleased with his team's effort. The Rangers peppered Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala with 19 shots in the second period and finished with 41. The teams will play the second of a home-and-home series Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

"I thought we played hard," Renney said. "We outshot this team significantly. We made a couple of mistakes that are in our game right now that we're going to continue to try to rectify. We're going to keep playing hard and we're going to stay the course."
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Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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