Alexander Ovechkin edged Sidney Crosby as the NHL's top rookie two seasons ago, but it was Crosby who earned an MVP honor first.
|Alexander Ovechkin is putting on a Hart Trophy-worthy performance down the stretch. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Considering the way he's led his team recently, Ovechkin may win a Hart Trophy of his own.
With the league's top scorer on their side, the Washington Capitals look to continue their push toward a playoff berth on Sunday when they host Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington (32-29-8) will be aiming for its fifth win in seven games, but as of now it's still on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Though the Capitals have ground to make up on Southeast Division-leading Carolina, they have two games in hand and still have two more meetings left with the Hurricanes.
Ovechkin is doing everything he can to earn his team its first spot in the postseason since 2002-03, totaling six goals and four assists in four games this month. The 22-year-old left wing has 54 goals, 10 more than any other player in the NHL, and his 93 points are four more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin for the league lead.
Ovechkin assisted on the Capitals' only goal Saturday, but Washington blew a late lead in Boston and lost 2-1.
"We're angry that we lost a game we thought we should have won," said coach Bruce Boudreau.
If he scores 60, Ovechkin will be the first player to do so since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) did it in 1995-96.
"If I score a goal and we win, I will be happy," Ovechkin said. "Right now it's all about winning. If I score 60 and we go to playoffs, I will be very happy."
Ovechkin has six goals and seven assists in his career against Pittsburgh, while Crosby has five goals and 12 assists against Washington. The Penguins (38-24-7), however, have dominated the matchup with Crosby and Ovechkin both on the ice, going 9-1-0.
Aside from Ovechkin, the key to the Capitals' postseason push has been their goaltending. They're in the bottom third of the league in goals allowed (205), but they've only given up 11 in their past seven games as Olaf Kolzig and newly acquired Cristobal Huet have taken turns in net.
Kolzig is 2-5-2 with a 4.30 goals-against average in his last nine starts versus the Penguins, while Huet is 3-2-0 with a 2.13 GAA in five career starts against them.
Ovechkin averages 1.35 points, tied for best in the NHL with Crosby, who returned to Pittsburgh's lineup on Tuesday after missing 21 games with a high ankle sprain.
The reigning MVP assisted on the game-winner that night in the Penguins' 2-0 victory at Tampa Bay, and had another assist Thursday in a 5-2 loss at Florida.
"We just didn't come out the right way and we definitely paid for it," said Crosby, who has 20 goals and 45 assists. "This time of year, you can't afford to do that."
Pittsburgh is in a battle with New Jersey atop the Atlantic Division, and the fact that the race is close is a credit to the play of Malkin, who took home the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie last season. Malkin had 14 goals and 22 assists in the 21 games Crosby missed.
Ovechkin and Malkin staged an entertaining battle when the Capitals and Penguins last met, as each scored two goals and assisted on another in Washington's 6-5 shootout win on Jan. 21.
Malkin has four goals and five assists in seven career games against the Capitals.