The NHL’s goal-scoring race and Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy are on Alex Ovechkin’s mind going into the final game of the regular season. With 32 goals through 47 games the Washington Capitals captain is up three on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos.
“Of course when you didn’t win two years, three years, and you’re coming back, of course you wanna win it,” Ovechkin said Saturday morning. “We’ll see what’s gonna happen with Stammer. If he wins it, he wins it, but if not, I’m gonna be pretty happy.”
Ovechkin most recently led the league in goals in 2008-09 when he scored 56. He had 65 the previous year when he won the Richard for the first time.
The 27-year-old right wing had two goals in his first 10 games and only 10 the last time the Caps faced the Boston Bruins, March 16. Since then, he has 22 goals in 20 games to take control of the race.
“It’s 100 percent not [individual],” Ovechkin said. “It’s a team effort and our line’s effort. It’s accomplish to me and my teammates and my guys who play with me.”
It’s not a coincidence that Ovechkin has had the same linemates, Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, for the past 20 games. Along with Mike Ribeiro on the power play, those are the guys who will be feeding Ovechkin on Saturday night to try to bolster his goal total, now that the Caps have the Southeast Division locked up.
“I’m sure Backy and JoJo gonna give what they have to do,” Ovechkin said. “If I’m gonna be open they gonna give me a pass. If I’m gonna be closed they have to shoot. We’ll just see what’s gonna happen.”
Asked if Ovechkin winning the goal-scoring race was good for the star and the Caps, coach Adam Oates said: “Yeah, as long as it’s done in the right way.” He has seen plenty of late-season shenanigans in this situation.
“I think you see every scenario in every sport that’s happened,” Oates said. “I know in baseball all of a sudden a home run hitter leads off in a game so he can get one more at-bat down the stretch. … We’re not going to sacrifice the team in any capacity, and Ovi wouldn’t want that. But if there’s an opportunity to play him, he’s going to play.”
When Stamkos was going for 50 goals three years ago, Oates was on Tampa Bay’s staff.
“I remember when Stammer got his 50th, he got an empty net at the end of the game,” Oates recalled. “We had two power plays in the third period where no one was going to shoot until Stammer got the shot. That shows what a good kid he is and how much the guys like him, how everybody wanted that to happen. And Florida, I remember, was trying to basically stand around Stammer, not let him get it and we just waited.”
During Oates’ playing days, he did everything he could as the playmaking center for Brett Hull and Cam Neely when 50 goals in 50 games was possible.
“That was what was on my mind, yeah,” Oates said. “And it was on theirs too.”
Ovechkin has done this before, but given some early-season struggles it feels like more of an accomplishment this time. He’s focused on team success in the playoffs, but for one game with nothing else at stake, ensuring this honor is important.
“One game left. [Up] three goals,” Ovechkin said. “If [Stamkos] score three, it’s gonna be good. But I’m gonna try to score today too.”