TAMPA – Alex Ovechkin had a golden chance at the magic number. The puck was on the stick. He had an open net to shoot. His 50thgoal was in sight.
The puck sailed wide, though, and like any good tradesman Ovechkin looked down at his stick. What the hell happened? He didn’t pause to answer. There was no time for that. He circled back around and was in perfect position for a cross-ice pass from T.J. Oshie. This time he made no mistake.
Ovechkin’s goal at 14:35 of the third period in a 6-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning was his 50thof the season. At age 33, when most great scorers are slowly fading, he remains the best. Capitals fans in the crowd at Amalie Arena began an “Ovi! Ovi!” chant as the home fans offered their grudging respect.
For the eight time in his career, Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark. Only Hockey Hall-of-Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have done it nine times. Is there another one left in him?
“You think I know?” Ovechkin said afterward, a little perplexed by the question.
He doesn’t. None of us know when this sustained stretch of greatness will finally ebb. You just need to watch it until it finally extinguishes like a candle. Then the memories will be all that’s left. “Remember that time when….”
Ever the showman, Ovechkin wasn’t finished. His goal came with the Capitals ahead 4-2, a four-goal lead cut in half and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning clawing their way back into the game for an unlikely win. They still remember last year’s devastating loss to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final. Ovechkin’s 50thgoal wasn’t what they needed. Ovechkin was beginning to wonder; he had just one goal in his past six games.
“I was just joking around, if [Oshie] was playing with him he would have gotten there 10 games ago,” forward Tom Wilson said. “It’s a privilege. It’s so cool to see what he does all the time. I’ve had a front-row seat for six, seven years now. He’s a pretty special player. I’m extremely happy for him.”
Ovechkin didn’t give Tampa Bay a chance to catch its breath when he made it 5-2. Just 1:40 later, on the power play, he scored again, No. 51. This time it was his most indelible goal, a ripper from the left circle on the power play on a pass from teammate John Carlson. That ended the competitive portion of the night at 6-2 – even if the Lightning added a late goal in the final minute to make the score a little more respectable.
But No. 50 was a reminder of young Ovechkin, the man-child in his early 20s who would hit anyone and go anywhere on the ice for the chance to score goals. He hunted them like prey. Nothing was too outlandish. He made you yelp every few weeks, an involuntary response to something you couldn’t believe you’d seen.
“I think he has the best shot ever in hockey,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “It doesn't come as a surprise to us, but I think biggest thing with him is the last couple years, he's really focused on all areas of his game and still been able to put up goals. I think that's a big reason why we've had success and why he's had success. It's pretty amazing to watch see him shoot a puck. It's like nothing else.”
No better example than with Washington on the power play already up 2-0 in the first period. A turnover led to a break for Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette and he was headed toward Holtby with a chance to get his team – and the big crowd – back into the game. Instead, Ovechkin tracked him down. He raced up ice, he bodied Paquette. He took the puck away like a big brother ripping a toy away from a younger sibling. Just 40 seconds later, Oshie scored to make it 3-0.
“It’s almost unfair that you just expect him to score 50 every year,” Oshie said. “But the little things that we notice is things like that. The backcheck. Him on the forecheck, getting hits, wearing down the other teams’ [defensemen], blocking shots. Those are things that I think he’s done a great job of these last couple of years and it’s turning him into a complete 200-foot player and we’re able top have him out there in those big moments and know he’s going to take care of us.”
Ovechkin missed his first great chance at 50, circled back like a shark and cut hard to the net for Oshie’s waiting pass. He fired the shot past Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and then trucked defenseman Braydon Coburn to the ice, the bull destroying everything in the china shop. It is how he used to sap the will of an opponent until he realized maybe he should tone things down to stay in the game for the long run.
“It’s always great being able to be in the Ovi trophy puck picture for sure,” Oshie joked. “I think I’m in maybe just two. But it’s fun to be in those. He does so much for us as a captain, as a leader, as a goal scorer. To be out there on the ice for him to get that 50th is pretty special.”
If Ovechkin’s lead holds with three games to go, he will win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the eighth time. Of course, that has only been awarded since 1999. If you go back more than 100 years in NHL history and add up every player who has led the league in goals scored in a season, Ovechkin is poised to pass Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull. They have both done it seven times. He will stand alone.
“It’s hard if you really want to get into details you can get extremely specific and talk about goalie gear and talk about goalie style,” Oshie said. “You can talk about the type of sticks we use and our gear and stuff like that. But he’s the most prolific and electrifying goal scorer that I’ve ever seen. And that’s either on TV or in person. He gets my vote for sure.”
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