has scored plenty of goals in his two-plus NHL seasons, but the ones he’s getting right now are unquestionably the most important.
With his team fighting for a playoff spot, Ovechkin scored his League-leading 53rd and 54th goals of the season as the Washington Capitals picked up a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
The victory saw the Caps jump into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind ninth-place Buffalo and just two in back of the No. 8 Philadelphia Flyers, who were idle on Wednesday.
''It's a good night for the team. Big win,'' said Ovechkin, who also scored three times and had five points in a 10-2 win over Boston on Monday night.
Not lost in the shuffle was the play of Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig, who made 25 saves and earned the 299th win of his career. While his play — along with newcomer Cristobal Huet — has the Capitals within striking distance of a playoff spot despite a horrid start that close former coach Glen Hanlon his job. Kolzig passed all the credit to Ovechkin, who is clearly a Hart Trophy candidate as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
''He's a fantastic player,'' Kolzig said of Ovechkin, who has six goals and 10 points in his last four games. ''I don't know what else you guys can write about him, but he's the best I've ever played with.''
Ovechkin broke a scoreless tie when he beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller on a breakaway 15:21 into the game. Moments after Kolzig made a pad save on Derek Roy, Ovechkin took a long pass from Nicklas Backstrom and beat Miller with a wrist shot for his 53rd goal of the season.
''Mental mistakes have cost us goals,'' Roy said. ''We gave up four or five breakaways. ... We preached before the game to look over our shoulder and see where Ovechkin is. And we didn't do so.''
Ales Kotalik got Buffalo even with a power-play goal at 12:37 of the second period. After Jeff Schultz was whistled for hooking, Kotalik wristed a shot from the point that found its way through a crowd in front and past Kolzig to make it 1-1. It was Kotalik’s 20th goal of the season.
The tie lasted just 50 seconds. After Ovechkin knocked Steve Bernier off the puck at the Sabres’ blue line, Viktor Kozlov fed a wide-open Backstrom in front. The rookie center stuffed the puck between Miller’s pads to make it 2-1.
Ovechkin iced the victory with his second goal of the night with 6:41 remaining in the third. The Russian star took a pass from Kozlov and fired a wrist shot from the left circle that trickled through Miller’s pads and over the goal line, as the Caps inched closer to a playoff spot — a far cry from what Ovechkin became accustomed to during his first two years in the U.S. capital.
''The last two years, we didn't play for something. ... We started thinking about vacation,'' he said. ''It's more interesting when you play for something.''
Ovechkin is six goals away from becoming the first player to reach 60 goals since Mario Lemieux scored 69 and Jaromir Jagr 62 in 1995-96 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with his team’s effort in its fourth game in six nights. But the loss dropped the Sabres to 2-4-1 in their last seven games.
“We let Ovechkin get in behind us, which hurt us,” Ruff said. “That guy’s dangerous. He doesn’t miss too often.
“We were getting too far ahead of the play against that line,” he said. “I thought our play in our own end was almost rock-solid. I thought we put in a lot of effort for a back-to-back, for a four-in-six. Were we smart enough to win the game? No. We didn’t get enough pucks at their net. We didn’t have the best legs tonight.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.