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Southeast: Ovechkin has Caps in playoff contention

by Robert Picarello

Alex Ovechkin led the entire NHL in scoring in January. Watch Alex Ovechkin scoring highlights
The way Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are playing right now, they have a great chance to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

The Caps have won eight of their last 11 games thanks mainly to the play of Ovechkin, who has torched the opposition for 13 goals and six assists in the last 11 games. Ovechkin led the entire NHL in scoring in January with 13 goals and nine assists and was plus-9 in 13 games. The Caps were 9-4-0 for the month.

"My goal is to make the playoffs and I have to score goals and everybody has to score goals," Ovechkin said. "So my goal is to score goals and try to win games."

In the last two months, that formula has worked very well for the Caps. Ovechkin's 22 points in January helped the club add 18 crucial points to their season total. In December, his 11 goals and seven assists helped the Caps go 7-3-3 and earn 17 points in the standings.

"We have to win all the games and we have to win and try in every game," Ovechkin said. "And if you win the games, you make the playoffs. If you have a great team and you lose, you don't go to the playoffs."

Robert Picarello
Robert Picarello reports on the Southeast Division every week throughout the 2007-08 regular season.
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Especially in the Southeast where every point counts. As of Thursday, only eight points separated first-place from last place. Entering play Thursday, the Capitals sat atop the division with 57 points, marking the first time the Caps were in first place this late in the season since March 14, 2003.

"It's a hard division and every team wants to go to the playoffs," Ovechkin said. "The first year (2005-06) (we) had a chance to go to playoffs and we didn't unfortunately and did not make the playoffs and the next year we did not make the playoffs. I felt like we have a good team and great players, and it's all about us. It doesn't matter what team you play. You just have to go to the ice and play hard and try and win the game."

And that's exactly what Ovechkin does in every game. He has 34 points in his last 38 games. Ovechkin has scored 14 goals and seven assists in 12 games since signing a 13-year, $124 million contract. Ovechkin also has scored a higher percentage of his team's goals and has had a hand in more Capitals goals than any other NHL player (29.1 percent).

But don't let the numbers fool you. Ovechkin isn't only the man on the ice in Washington. He's also the man off the ice for the club according to team captain Chris Clark.

"Alexander is unbelievable," Clark said. "Not only what he brings to the ice, but also what he brings to the locker room. He's always upbeat. He's always in there having fun. He brings that energy level that sometimes you forget to bring. He knows it's a game. It's not a job to him. He's out there having fun and he brings that to us, brings that to the locker room and I think that's a huge thing that most people don't see."

Who's hot -- Washington defenseman Mike Green had six goals and 14 points in 13 games in January, both of which led all NHL defensemen last month. As of Feb. 7, Green leads all NHL defensemen in goals (14) and ranks eighth among defensemen in points (36). … Atlanta's Mark Recchi has a goal and four assists in his last five games. Recchi played a huge role in last Saturday's 2-0 win over Washington, assisting on both Atlanta goals. … Florida's Nathan Horton has two goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games. The Panthers' right wing enters the weekend with seven multi-assist contests this season. … Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour has points in three of his last four games and eight of his last 10, scoring four goals and eight assists. … Tampa Bay's Dan Boyle has two goals and four assists in his first five games since returning from wrist surgery on Jan. 24.


Southeast Quotes -- "The coaches really stressed to keep going and not let them back into the game. We've had a couple games this year where we have had leads in the second and third periods and we have let teams creep back in, so we really wanted to keep our foot on the gas pedal and we obviously did that."

-- Florida's Brett McLean after the Panthers pounded the Maple Leafs 8-0 Tuesday night in Toronto.

"We believe we're a real good team now. Individually, I think they believe they're a hard team to beat and that when they go on the ice they can win any game they play."

-- Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau on Wednesday night after the Capitals moved into first place in the Southeast following a 4-3 road win over the Flyers.

A look ahead -- Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes travel to Washington. Saturday, the Hurricanes head to New Jersey, the Panthers are in Boston and the Thrashers host Tampa Bay. Sunday, the Capitals are home against the Rangers, and the Panthers travel to Buffalo.


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