Time running out for Ovechkin, Caps

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

The center strip of freshly cut ice for a shootout was still shimmering when the Washington Capitals got the bad news: Boston 6, Toronto 2.

These are exciting times for the Capitals, and devastatingly disappointing ones, too. Take Tuesday night for example. Washington desperately needed to take two points from the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.

The Caps would have loved to earn them in regulation and keep their faint Southeast title hopes alive, but they knew they needed to escape RBC Center in Raleigh with two points whether the Hurricanes got one or not.

It went right down to the final shooter – Viktor Kozlov – in the shootout and the former first-round draft pick who never really reached the potential forecast when he was a teenager, buried the winner to give the visitors those two crucial points for the sixth time in seven games.

Then, within minutes, the result from Toronto was final and the night was really a wash. The Bruins continue to maintain a two-point lead for the final playoff spot in the East, and Boston has six games remaining to Washington's five.

And to make matters worse for the Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers grabbed two points with an overtime victory on the New York Rangers' ice to stay four points up on Washington.

Time is running out for the Capitals, and Alexander Ovechkin may have to wait until at least his fourth season to make a Stanley Cup appearance.

"The last two years, we don't play enough, we think about vacation and we think about what we're doing in the summer," Ovechkin said. "Right now we have a great chance to move forward and be in that spot."

During a season in which so many of the game's brightest young stars will be on the Stanley Cup stage, it's looking more and more like Ovechkin and his amazing skills will be missing. It really would be interesting to see what his game would look like in the playoffs. Could Ovechkin kick it up another notch?

It's hard to imagine him working any harder on the ice than he does already. And he certainly wouldn't shy away from the heightened nature of physical play and intensity.

And if he doesn't make it? Well, those sixty-something number of goals he scores are going to feel pretty empty.

"I always think about my personal statistics," Ovechkin confessed. "I always want to be the best. But right now, I don't I care about my team and myself. I just want to help my team to win the game and bring points."

Ovechkin set a franchise record by scoring his 61st goal of the season. He was tied with Denis Maruk, who scored 60 for a Washington team that won only 26 of 80 games in 1981-82.

Maruk were merely a footnote in the goal-scoring race since he picked the same year to go nuts as Wayne Gretzky did in scoring a league-record 92 goals for Edmonton. Maruk finished third as Mike Bossy of the Islanders scored 64 goals.

The 22-year-old Ovechkin is running away with the goal-scoring title this year, and the relatively new Rocket Richard Trophy that goes along with the honor. Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk is a distant second with 50 goals and fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh is fourth with 44, five behind Calgary's Jarome Iginla with 49.

You could say the Russians are coming, but clearly they have already arrived.

"I think me and the other players, we just play our way, and you know, we just play how we can," Ovechkin said of his fellow Russian stars.

"Kovalchuk, goal-scoring leader, Malkin, more of a passing guy, and (Alexei) Kovalev, great hands, and we just use our key and it's working I think.

"I don't know how to explain it, but it's Russian hockey. You know, like if you can see (Sidney) Crosby or (Vincent) Lecavalier, they play the way they do, we just play how we can, and just try to use our style and use what we can."

Ovechkin will finish with either the most goals in a season since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96 or when Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny collected 76 apiece in 1992-93.

But that's not enough to impress Ovechkin anymore.

"My personal stats, it's personal stats," he said. "Right now I think about the team."

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