Patrik Laine seemed to be in denial.
The Winnipeg Jets forward scored his 40th goal of the season in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday to pull into a tie with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead. But Laine didn't think he'd still be tied with his childhood idol by the time they face each other at Capital One Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, NBCSWA, TSN3, NHL.TV).
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"He's probably going to score a couple tonight," Laine said.
But Ovechkin did not score in the Capitals' 2-0 win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. That was the Capitals captain's third game in a row without a goal, a mini-drought that has him stuck on 40 for the season.
Laine grew up looking up to Ovechkin. It might take the 19-year-old some time to get used to being on the same level as him.
"I would be honored to tie the League lead with him," Laine said.
It wasn't that long ago that Laine faced Ovechkin for the first time in the 2016 IIHF World Championship. Playing for host Russia, Ovechkin hit Laine with a body check, leaving the Finn smiling.
"I won't wash this jersey ever because he hit me," Laine said after the game.
Now, Laine is in a dead heat with Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with each having 14 games remaining. Ovechkin, 32, is seeking to lead the NHL in goals for the seventh time in his 13 NHL seasons, which would tie Bobby Hull for the most in League history.
Video: #NHLMilestones: Laine scores 40th goal this season
Laine, who has scored nine goals during his five-game goal streak and 15 in his past 11 games, is chasing his first NHL goal title.
"It's always been one of my dreams to win it," Laine said. "It's something that every goal-scorer dreams about. … There's a lot of things that can happen, but that's good motivation to me. With our team goals, it's good motivation for me."
The Jets (41-18-9) are second in the Central Division, seven points behind the Nashville Predators and six ahead of the third-place Minnesota Wild. They have some work to do, but appear destined to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014-15 and the second time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
The Capitals (38-23-7) also have some work to do to clinch a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season and home-ice advantage in at least the first round. They lead the Pittsburgh Penguins by one point for first in the Metropolitan Division and are two points ahead of the third-place Philadelphia.
But the race between Laine and Ovechkin -- with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (39 goals) and Minnesota's Eric Staal (37) on their heels -- will be a compelling subplot Monday and over the remainder of the regular season.
Laine is bidding to become the second teenager to lead the NHL in goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Rick Nash was 19 with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003-04 when he finished in a three-way tie with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the League\ lead with 41.
Ovechkin would be the oldest to lead the NHL in goals (based on his age on the final day of the season) since Phil Esposito scored 61 at age 33 in 1974-75.
Video: TOR@WSH: Ovechkin nets 40th goal of season in front
Laine said he doesn't keep tabs on Ovechkin's goal total on a nightly basis.
"I just sometimes look at the scoreboard and the score sheets," he said. "I always pretty much know where everyone's at. I'm watching a lot of games and a lot of scores, but I don't need to keep track of that."
Ovechkin, who has 598 goals in 989 NHL games, is two away from becoming the 20th player in NHL history to reach 600 and, according to Elias, the fourth to do it in fewer than 1,000 games, joining Wayne Gretzky (718), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900).
Laine, who has 76 goals in 141 NHL games, is tied with Brian Bellows and Gretzky for the third most by a teenager, trailing Jimmy Carson (92) and Dale Hawerchuk (85).
This is Ovechkin's ninth 40-goal season. Laine reached 40 for the first time on a power-play one-timer 8:58 into the third period Saturday.
That the Jets lost the game mattered more to Laine in the immediate aftermath.
"But maybe tomorrow I'll be happier," he said Saturday. "I've got to be proud of myself. That's just a great number, but now it doesn't feel good."
Laine and Ovechkin each would be in elite company if they can get to 50 goals this season.
Ovechkin would be the fifth NHL player to score 50 or more in a season after his 32nd birthday, and the first since Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06, who turned 34 during that season. It would be Ovechkin's eighth 50-goal season.
Only Gretzky and Mike Bossy have more with nine each.
Laine would be the third teenager in League history to score 50 in a season, according to Elias, joining Gretzky (51; 1979-80) and Carson (55; 1987-88), who were each 19. He turns 20 on April 19.
Laine would have to stay hot and Ovechkin would have to go on one of his renowned scoring binges, but 50 is within reach.
"You never know what's going to happen," Laine said. "Ten games ago, I was at 25 and nobody was talking about even 40. There's a lot of things that can happen."