Alexander Ovechkin

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Ten years after “hot stick”, Ovechkin goes for 50 against Lightning again

Ten years after “hot stick”, Ovechkin goes for 50 against Lightning again

WASHINGTON – The moment came 10 years and a day ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Alex Ovechkin skates up the middle of the ice, cuts hard to the right and into the offensive zone and before anyone knows what’s happened he’s whipped a wrist shot into the net. Blink, and you missed it. 

That was vintage Ovechkin on March 19, 2009. It was his 50th goal. And it set off a firestorm of sorts when he celebrated by laying his stick on the ice and pretending it was too hot to touch. The “hot stick” was born.

Of course, it inspired a wave of indignation, too. Former Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, now the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, said it was “hard for me to accept in our building.” CBC Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry pointed out how terrible Tampa Bay was that year and that Ovechkin, while not a mean person, embarrassed the Lightning, whose star players, including Martin St. Louis, echoed that sentiment after the game.

Even Ovechkin’s teammates knew he’d probably gone too far in a sport where not showing up the opposition is taken seriously. Nicklas Backstrom and former Capitals defenseman Mike Green skate toward Ovechkin, saw what he has in mind, and quickly got the hell out of there, which was hilarious. Later, goalie Jose Theodore told French-language publication Le Journal de Montreal that he encouraged Ovechkin to do something fun. 

The resentment actually got to Ovechkin, who still celebrates big goals with the exuberance of a kid, but has never gone back to coordinated stunts. It was meant to be a fun way to enjoy 50. It angered a few too many in the hockey world. So he moved on. 

But tonight at Capital One Arena, almost exactly 10 years after the hot stick incident, Ovechkin sits at 48 goals with a chance to get 50 when the Capitals host the Lightning (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network). If he does it will be the eighth time he’s reached that mark. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine times) have gotten there more. 

“You get to 50 there’s not too many guys in history that can say they’ve done that,” said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who played in the hot stick game. “When you’re that close you want it for sure. He’s going to get it. It’s a matter of when. But that’s the magic number.”

Stamkos would know. He’s topped 50 twice – and in one of those years, 2011-12, reached 60. He and Backstrom are the only players left who played that night, a 5-2 Washington win. 

Stamkos was a rookie phenom on a team that finished last in the Southeast Division with 66 points. He scored a goal himself to tie the game 1-1 in the first period. Tampa Bay assistant coach Jeff Halpern, a long-time Capitals player and a Maryland native, was actually on the other side playing with the Lightning late in his career.

Ovechkin getting 50 tonight would be ironic. It would also help in a big game against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Tampa Bay has already clinched that, the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The two teams bashed each other all over the ice in an emotional, feisty game at Amalie Arena on Saturday, the first time they have met since last year’s epic Eastern Conference Final won by the Capitals in seven games. The Lightning won that game 6-3, but two empty-net goals made the final score look worse than it was. They play again tonight and on March 30 in Tampa. But who knows if another playoff matchup is possible? That would again be in the Eastern Conference Final and no one is looking that far ahead.   

“He’s been a superstar in the this league for a long time, a future Hall of Famer,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “For us, it’s a rival and we’ll try to stop him. He’s going to hit 50 again, obviously. That’s pretty impressive at the age of 33. But not tonight. Not tonight or [March 30].”

Here are the other six times Ovechkin has hit the 50-goal mark besides the hot stick celebration against Tampa Bay:

April 13, 2006 – at Atlanta Thrashers

Rest in peace, Thrashers. The old Southeast Division rival moved to Winnipeg earlier this decade. Ovechkin used to torment Atlanta. In a 5-3 loss during his rookie year he scored No. 50 and became the first rookie since 1993 to score 50 goals and record 100 points. 

March 3, 2008 – vs. Boston Bruins

What a ridiculous early date to hit 50. The calendar had just flipped to March. This was the first Capitals team with Ovechkin that rolled for a whole regular season. They crushed the Bruins 10-2 and Ovechkin had a hat trick for goals 50, 51 and 52. He finished with 65. 

April 9, 2010 – vs. Atlanta Thrashers

Ovechkin got the Thrashers again. See if you can guess the other team he’s reached 50 against twice later in this list. This game was a 5-2 win in a year Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy, but lost in a first-round shocker to the Montreal Canadiens. Ovechkin broke a 2-2 tie with a wrist shot at 9:49 of the third period. Incidentally – that was also Nicklas Backstrom’s 100thpoint. Nice symmetry.  

April 8, 2014 – at St. Louis Blues

Remember, Ovechkin went through a dry spell for a few years. He dropped to 32 goals in 2010-11 and 38 in 2011-12. People started to freak out. Now, for most hockey players that’s a great season. Ovechkin just set the bar at an absurd level. The next year in 2012-13 it was a 48-game schedule because of a lockout, but Ovechkin flashed signs he was getting back to a historic level with 32 goals in just 48 games. In 2014 he got back to 50 during a 4-1 win at St. Louis. His one-timer from his office in the left faceoff circle came on a power play in the first period. 

March 31, 2015 – vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Back to 50 before April. Washington won this game 4-2. The crowd chanted “M-V-P!” over and over and gave Ovechkin a standing ovation after his first-period goal put the Capitals ahead 2-0. The shot? From just inside the left circle. The pass? From Evgeny Kuznetsov.

April 9, 2016 – at St. Louis Blues

What does Ovechkin have against the Blues? Twice he’s reached 50 at Enterprise Center. This time it was during a 5-1 win. It was also another hat trick. It was also the last game of the year. Ovechkin got goals 48, 49 and, finally, 50, which came in the third period on an assist from Backstrom. 

Ovechkin dipped to 33 goals in 2016-17, which was a concern as he entered his 30s. But last season he rebounded and fell agonizingly short with 49 goals. He has nine games left to score twice and get there again. If he does, he will be one 50-goal season shy of Gretzky and Bossy. 

Let Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper sum it up:

“What's amazing about it, too, is [Ovechkin] had a couple years in the 30s a few years ago and then has turned it up a notch and is back in that 50 realm again. But the one thing, some organizations are blessed that in an era, you get to witness the same player every night and marvel at what they do. I've been fortunate enough to be in the league six years now and I don't get to see him every night, but when I do, he's a fun guy to watch and the fans here are treated to every time the puck's on his stick, it has a chance to go in the net. Some guys in this league, and we've got a couple of them, that pull fans out of their seats and Ovi's one of them.” 

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Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby: How a forced rivalry turned into one of the greatest in NHL history

Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby: How a forced rivalry turned into one of the greatest in NHL history

PITTSBURGH -- Alex Ovechkin shifted away from his normal office on the power play and retreated to the point at the blue line awaiting the pass. When it came, he fired the one-timer at Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.

Murray managed to get a pad on the puck, but the power behind the shot sent the rebound out to John Carlson who potted the puck before Murray could recover. Ovechkin collected an assist on the play for his 1,200th career point, pulling him into a tie for 48th all-time in NHL history.

Sitting one spot ahead of him at No. 47 with 1,206 points is Sidney Crosby who hit the 1,200-point mark exactly one week before.

After 14 NHL seasons, six points are all that separate the two rivals as both have put together careers that will cement them among the all-time greats.

“I'm just amazed at how consistent both of them have been near the top of the league in scoring,” said Matt Niskanen, who has been with the Caps since 2014 and who spent four seasons playing with Crosby in Pittsburgh. “Every year for over a decade, they've just produced and produced. It really is amazing just how lethal they've been for so long.”

Some rivalries are created by playoff matchups, others are born of bad blood stemming from a dirty play in a game. If you ask either Ovechkin or Crosby, they see the rivalry between as just an extension of the Capitals and Penguins rivalry. Neither player seems to enjoy talking about the other or about competing against one another.

“I don’t like turning it into me and him,” Crosby said to Josh Yohe of The Athletic

That attitude is not surprising given how the competition between both players was thrust upon them.

The Ovechkin, Crosby rivalry was artificially created, the product of an attention-grabbing storyline of two generational players entering the league at the same time. Whether they want to admit it or not, however, that rivalry has grown into one of the all-time great rivalries of the NHL and perhaps in sports.

“It'll go down as the greatest one-on-one, player-on-player rivalry that we've had since Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky,” former player and current NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick said. “And that's even a little bit different too because Mario and Wayne were on opposite conferences, they didn't play each other as much as we've seen Sidney and Ovechkin. So I think it goes even on a bigger par, on a bigger status than maybe their two rivalries had during the '80s and '90s.”

Ovechkin first entered the NHL in 2004 when he was selected at No. 1 overall by Washington in the draft. He took the league by storm with two goals in his NHL debut. With 52 goals and 106 points in his rookie season, it was clear the Caps had received a generational talent. Washington has become a powerhouse franchise in the NHL with Ovechkin leading the way. He took over as team captain in 2010. The way he plays and the way he leads can often stand in stark contrast to the typically buttoned-down NHL.

“He shows up every night and brings a lot of energy to the table,” Carl Hagelin said. “He's loud, he's always excited. I think he gets you going. He's been great.”

Crosby was the No. 1 overall pick for Pittsburgh the year after Ovechkin in 2005. A native of Nova Scotia, Crosby’s career began with high expectations from a hockey crazy Canada. He quickly established himself as the next great player for a Penguins team that had struggled since the decline of Lemieux. Crosby was the next player to wear the C after Lemieux and has brought a new era of dominance to Pittsburgh.

“Just tireless worker,” Niskanen said. “Plays the game hard. Obviously has a ton of talent and all that, but his motor just never stops going. He's just always going. He's usually the best practice player, he has the most detail, constantly working on his game. He's pretty impressive that way.”

Though both the captains of their respective teams, they lead in completely different ways.

“They're different, but they both find a way to be successful,” said Brooks Orpik, who played with Crosby for nine seasons and who is now in his fifth season with the Caps. “I think if one guy tried the other guy's routine or path, it probably wouldn't result in success and that's just the way it is. It's hard to find many similarities.”

A lockout erased the 2004-05 season meaning that despite both being No. 1 overall picks, they both made their NHL debut in the same season in 2005.

From a media perspective, it was a match made in Heaven. Two franchise players entering the league in the same year on rival teams. The narrative took off and everyone ran with it.

From the players’ perspective, however, it felt forced.

Ovechkin was from Russia, Crosby from Canada. Both players had played against one another only once in the 2005 World Junior Championship gold medal game. To call the Caps and Penguins “rivals” at that point was also a stretch. Washington’s dislike for Pittsburgh stemmed from a 1-6 playoff record against the Penguins. In 2005, however, both teams were in different divisions and had not played a postseason series since 2001.

“I know from those two guys perspective, it was always external,” Brooks Orpik said. “It was never me vs. that guy. It was always just this team vs. that team.”

But the rivalry tag would not go away.

Both players managed to live up to the impossibly high expectations starting in the 2005-06 season when both players tallied over 100 points and found themselves competing for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Ovechkin emerged victorious while Crosby finished second. Crosby would go on to win the Hart Trophy the following season as the league MVP. Not to be outdone, Ovechkin would win the Hart in each of the next two years.

For every individual accolade, every milestone one would reach, the other would seemingly respond.

“First couple years of course we was young, we was rookies and we want to prove to the team, to the fans who's better,” Ovechkin said.

But the great rivalries in sports, the games and storylines we remember the most, come from the playoffs. It was not until 2009 that the rivalry stopped being a media-driven narrative and turned into something more than that.

“Probably that first playoff series they played each other, that's where it turned into something real,” Niskanen said.

Sports can be fickle. The matchups we look forward to the most so rarely manage to live up to expectations, but this one did.

In their first postseason meeting, both Ovechkin and Crosby were absolutely brilliant. Ovechkin scored eight goals and 14 points while Crosby tallied eight goals and 13 points in seven games. Ultimately, Crosby and the Penguins prevailed and would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year. Though there could only be one winner, both players emerged as the faces of the league, two young superstars who had managed to live up to every expectation the league, the media and the fans had placed upon them when they were first drafted.

It took another seven years before the two would meet again in the postseason. Now they have played in each of the last three seasons in what has been inarguably one of the most important rivalries in league history. The winner of each series between the Caps and Penguins in the Ovechkin-Crosby era has gone on to win the Cup.

“It's a great rivalry and it's phenomenal for the game, for the growth of the game in both areas,” said Todd Reirden, who has coached both players. “Having lived in both places, you've seen the game grow largely because of those two superstars.”

A rivalry that was once branded as Ovechkin vs. Crosby and was measured by individual achievement shifted over the years. As Crosby continued leading Pittsburgh deep into the playoffs, Ovechkin and the Caps struggled to get past the second round. With every passing year, the number of goals, points and trophies mattered less and less. Suddenly the rivalry became all about one number: Zero.

In 2017, the Caps fell to the Penguins in the playoffs for the second consecutive season and for the third time in the Ovechkin-Crosby era. Ovechkin had yet to beat Crosby in the playoffs and had not won a championship.

When it comes to the all-time greats, players are judged by titles. Dan Marino, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Pavel Bure, Marcell Dionne, Eric Lindros were all great players in their respective sports, but they are all remembered with the caveat of being among the greatest players to never win a championship. Ovechkin was in danger of joining that list, but 2018 changed everything.

For the third straight season, the Caps faced the Penguins in the playoffs. Pittsburgh was the two-time defending champion and stood in the way of Washington’s Stanley Cup dreams. Ovechkin was brilliant again with seven points in six games. In overtime of Game 6, he sprung Evgeny Kuznetsov on a breakaway on the series-clinching goal.  From there, Ovechkin and the Caps simply would not be denied.

The 2018 run to the Stanley Cup changed what was already a tremendous rivalry and made it an all-time great. Ovechkin finally had his championship and he had to go through Crosby to get it.

For his career, Ovechkin has earned three Hart Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards as the MVP as voted by the NHLPA, seven Rocket Richard Trophies as the league’s leading goal scorer, one Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leader in points, one Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and one Stanley Cup. Crosby has two Hart Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, two Rocket Richard Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies and three Stanley Cups.

But for all their accomplishments, the legacy of both players will be forever linked. You cannot talk about the career of Ovechkin without talking about Crosby and vice versa.  Now, however, the rivalry is not about what Ovechkin has not achieved. He finally earned his validation and with it, turned his rivalry with Crosby into one of the greatest ever. An all-time great vs. all-time great, champion vs. champion.

“You have arguably the best player over the last 12 years in Sidney Crosby and you have not arguably the best goal scorer in this generation in Ovechkin,” Roenick said. “Now that that Cup has been won by Ovechkin, there's always going to be that never-ending debate is who was the better player and it's one that I'm sure will be talked about way more than Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.”

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Alex Ovechkin reflects on his place in history after passing Sergei Fedorov

Alex Ovechkin reflects on his place in history after passing Sergei Fedorov

WASHINGTON – As T.J. Oshie slid the puck past a helpless Jacob Markstrom, Alex Ovechkin began swinging his arms in wild celebration. Ovechkin is never one to hold back when a teammate scores, but there was extra joy in Ovechkin’s reaction as he knew he had just passed another major career milestone.

Ovechkin picked up a secondary assist on the play for his 1,180th career point. That point pulled Ovechkin past Sergei Fedorov for the most points all-time by a Russian-born player. That would be a major milestone for any player, but especially for Ovechkin who takes great pride in his Russian heritage.

Now in the 14th season of his prolific career, it seems as if Ovechkin hits another milestone every other game. This one, however, seemed to mean more to him than many of the others and after the game, he was very reflective on his place in history.

“It was hard work, lots of hockey and I think I’m proud for my family, for my dad spending time all the time with me,” he said. “It’s history and I passed all those legends. You know, it’s pretty big and I appreciate everybody who do all work with me, my teammates, and it’s huge. When you start playing hockey and you came to the NHL, you just have a dream to score one goal or two and now I’m No. 1 on the all-time Russian list. It’s pretty amazing.”

When you think about all the Russian legends to play the game, that list is pretty long and impressive. Pavel Datsyuk, Pavel Bure, Igor Larionov and, of course, Fedorov. Now Ovechkin has more points than all of them.

“Some amazing players that he's passed, and I think that means a lot for him,” Braden Holtby said. “He's very passionate about his country, so it means a lot for him.”

Ovechkin tied Fedorov on Jan. 23 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It took three games for him to finally pass him, but despite the enormity of the accomplishment, it did not seem to weigh on his mind at all leading up to it. In fact, he said he thought Fedorov would be glad it was him who broke his record, given the relationship the two have.

“I talked to him and said it’s a huge honor,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, we have a very good relationship and I’m pretty sure he’s pretty happy for me that I beat him.”

Ovechkin and Fedorov were teammates in Washington for parts of two seasons when Fedorov was acquired at the 2008 trade deadline to help the Caps make a run at the postseason. Ovechkin was also a fan of Fedorov’s growing up. Now he has surpassed him.

There is no doubt when Ovechkin walks away from the game that he will be considered one of the best to ever play. But given what he has already accomplished it does not seem a stretch at all to call him the best Russian player of all-time.

In his career, Ovechkin has scored 644 goals and 535 assists. No other active player has 550 goals. He ranks 14th all-time in goals scored, has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals in a season seven times, and the Hart Trophy as league MVP three times. In 2018 he finally led the Capitals to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and took the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Tuesday’s milestone does not make that argument, it just adds to it.

“It's great what he's done for his country and more importantly what he's done for us as Capitals fans and people in Washington that have been really, I feel, fortunate to watch a generation talent like him,” head coach Todd Reirden said.

“How many players play in the league from Russia?” Ovechkin said. “Being No. 1 in that category list is something special.”

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