Ovechkin's Capital charge

Ross McKeon

The NHL schedule has some bad news for the Boston Bruins: Alexander Ovechkin is coming to town Saturday.

A candidate for the Hart and Art Ross trophies, Ovechkin put the Bruins in a deep funk by scoring a first-period hat trick on Monday as Washington scored six during the first 20 minutes and 10 for the game. Boston has lost three in a row, has been outscored 19-4 in the process and all but one of the goals have come after trailing by at least six.

"It's obvious that we are not playing with desperation and the energy we need to be playing (with)," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "We have to regroup as quickly as possible."

Ovechkin is leading a Washington charge as the Capitals continue to pursue the Southeast Division lead, which is possibly the only way they can make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Ovechkin, meanwhile, is continuing his assault on offensive milestones.

With his five-point game against the Bruins, followed by a two-goal effort in a win at Buffalo two nights later, Ovechkin reached the 50-goal plateau in his team's 67th game, the fastest since Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux for Pittsburgh (59th games) and Alexander Mogilny for Buffalo (63rd game) in 1995-96.

The fact Ovechkin collected a hat trick on the same night as scoring No. 50 put him in exclusive company. Wayne Gretzky is the only other player to accomplish the unique feat.

Ovechkin is 22 years old, playing in just his third NHL season and already he has two 50-goal campaigns. With 54 to lead the league, where will Ovechkin finish this season. Sixty goals? Does he have a chance at 70?

Gretzky has the top two goal-scoring seasons – the NHL-record 92, accomplished in 80 games during the 1981-82 season, and a runner-up total of 87 scored by the Great One during 74 contests in 1983-84. Lemieux is high on the list four times with totals of 85, 70 and 69 twice. Gretzky had seasons of 73 and 71 goals scored, too.

Mogilny is the top Russian-born single-season goal-scorer with 76 in 1992-93, but he shares the same number with Teemu Selanne of Winnipeg as the most scored by a European-born skater.

Ovechkin will need 14 goals in his last 14 games to crack the top-20. Phil Esposito, Jari Kurri and Mike Bossy all had 68 goals each to fill the Nos. 18-20 slots in single-season goal-scoring.

Listen to Ovechkin speak, however, and his goals are secondary to the team's No. 1 goal of winning.

"If I score goal and we win, I will be happy," Ovechkin said. "But, you know, right now it's all about winning. If I score 60 and we go to playoffs, I will be very happy."

Ovechkin will likely need to score at least 60 goals for the Caps to go anywhere. Washington has one of the best teams in the East since 52-year-old career minor-league coach Bruce Boudreau took over in late November for Glen Hanlon, who was fired after a 6-14-1 start.

Washington has gone 26-14-7, which translates to a 103-point season if that pace was maintained for 82 games. The trouble is making up for the poor 21-game start.

"You know, we have chances, it is up to us," said Ovechkin, who has 38 goals under Boudreau including eight game-winners.

Ovechkin acknowledges the change behind the bench was the turning point in the season, not just because of a new approach but because Boudreau was familiar with the young talent throughout the organization.

"The key is he knows the guys very well," Ovechkin said of the coach of the Caps' top affiliate the three previous seasons. "He just changed our mentality, like we are not losers, we are good players, we are a good team and we can beat anybody if we want and play how we can play."

After Saturday in Boston and Sunday at home against Pittsburgh, the Capitals will face Southeast rivals in all but four of their remaining 12 games. Washington meets Carolina two more times – once at home and once on the road.

"We have a great team, we support each other and we play for each other," Ovechkin said. "We know our goal."

Washington's chances received a shot in the arm when general manager George McPhee made some shrewd moves at the trade deadline to acquire goalie Cristobal Huet from Montreal, veteran Sergei Fedorov from Columbus and chippy forward Matt Cooke from Vancouver. The Caps are 4-1 since the roster reshuffling.

If everything falls just right during the final month of the season, Ovechkin will make his first of probably many Stanley Cup playoff appearances, and he won't have to worry about people only talking about his regular-season scoring prowess.

"When you score lots of goals and lots of points, it's good, but it's not good for the team," he said. "Maybe some fans will think, 'Oh, he's selfish. He just wants to score goals, he doesn't want to win.' I don't want to look like I'm just selfish."

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