Alexander Ovechkin reached two milestones on Tuesday night. He’s aiming for one more on Wednesday.
The league’s scoring leader will make his United Center debut, looking to be the first to reach 60 goals in 12 years as the Washington Capitals continue their season-high six-game road trip against the slumping Chicago Blackhawks.
The Capitals (36-30-8) opened their swing with a 4-2 win over Nashville on Tuesday behind a goal and two assists from Ovechkin. The initial assist made Ovechkin the first player in Washington’s 34-year history with two 100-point seasons - he had 106 en route to winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie in 2005-06.
He added a second assist later in opening period before banking in an empty-net goal off the boards with four seconds left in the game. It was the All-Star’s 58th goal and his 300th career point.
Ovechkin needs two more goals to become the first with 60 in a season since Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) in 1995-96. But Ovechkin also says records mean little to him.
“Right now it is all about winning games and all about getting two points,” he said.
With 80 points, Washington is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind idle Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Capitals have not been to the postseason since 2003.
“There is no rest, because it is so close,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If everything goes as it could possibly go, you could have five or six teams within two or three points of each other by Friday, so we want to be the team that gains the spot.”
Looking for their season-high fifth straight win, the Capitals are making their first visit to Chicago since February 2004, but have dropped two straight to the Blackhawks since then. Facing them in January 2006, Ovechkin had a goal and assist, but the Capitals lost 4-3 in overtime.
Against Nashville, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Bradley helped stake Washington to a 3-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the game. Cristobal Huet finished with 24 saves, and is 4-2-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average with the Caps since being acquired from Montreal at last month’s trading deadline.
Chicago (34-32-7) may finish above .500 for the first time since 2002, but its hopes of ending a six-year playoff drought are in jeopardy. The 13th place-Blackhawks are seven points out of the Western Conference playoff mix with nine games remaining.
They’re also trying to avoid losing for the sixth time in seven games after falling 4-2 to Calgary on Sunday. Robert Lang and Jonathan Toews each scored their 20th goals, but Patrick Lalime was replaced by Nikolai Khabibulin after stopping 18 of 22 shots through two periods.
“We had a lot of great chances,” Toews said. “We finally had a couple of power plays. When you have two or three in a row and it doesn’t go in, it’s hard to stay positive.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Blackhawks will honor goaltender Tony Esposito, the franchise’s all-time wins leader with 418 over a 15-year career from 1969-84. The Hall of Famer’s No. 35 is one of five retired by the team along with those worn by Glenn Hall (1), Bobby Hull (9), Stan Mikita (21) and current coach Denis Savard (18).
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