- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

Leave it to Alex Ovechkin to become a 60-goal man with style.

The Washington Capitals’ superstar didn’t become the first NHL player in 12 years — and just the 19th ever — to reach the 60 mark with some meaningless score in a rout or with an empty-netter. No, Ovechkin’s milestone Friday in Atlanta ignited a third-period comeback, which kept the Caps very much alive for their first playoff berth since 2003.

“It’s big time to score in such big week,” Ovechkin said yesterday before heading to Verizon Center to watch the NCAA tournament games. “We can be in the playoffs. It was special game. It’s always fun to score, but I realize it’s a big number.”

Ovechkin added two assists in the final 3:28 as the Caps came back to win 5-3 after trailing by two goals. It was the first time since December 2006 that the team had pulled off such a feat in the third period.

“If we make the playoffs, we’ll look back, and that will be the defining moment of the year,” said goalie Olie Kolzig, the only active Caps player who has skated in postseason for Washington.

“To me, Alex made the strongest case you could possibly make for the MVP award,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When you’re not on the brink of elimination but you can see it from there and [you score] three points in the third period, that’s a pretty great achievement.”

If Ovechkin scores again, he will top Dennis Maruk’s Caps record. Only one NHL left wing, Luc Robitaille in 1992-93, has topped 60.

Of the 18 players who preceded Ovechkin in the 60 club, six are Hall of Famers. Only Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Pavel Bure were younger than Ovechkin (22 years, six months) when they scored 60 for the first time.

The Caps’ Sergei Fedorov has 471 career goals, but the center peaked with 56 during his Hart Trophy season in 1993-94 with the Detroit Red Wings. That came near the end of a 13-year span during which there were usually more than two 60-goal scorers a season, a different era from today with larger goalies and bigger equipment covering so much more of the net.

“Definitely the game changed a lot,” Fedorov said. “It’s more physical. You need to be strong out there. The game is more intense and much faster. No way it’s easy to score 30, 40 or 50 goals. Alex has a great scoring touch and a hard shot. Now it’s just experience. The experience of the last three seasons have to help him achieve more goals like that. I tell him don’t stop there.”

Ovechkin — whose 158 goals in his first three seasons rank third behind the totals of Gretzky and Bossy — doesn’t plan to stop scoring. But with the Caps still in the playoff hunt, he’s not looking ahead.

“Bruce is more offensive coach [than predecessor Glen Hanlon],” Ovechkin said. “He changed the team. I’ve had great chances to score goals. Power play is working well. My teammates do a great job. They give me the puck all the time. They give me space to shoot the puck, so I can score goals. Let’s finish this season, and [then] we see what happens next year.”

Note - Ovechkin didn’t take part in yesterday’s optional skate. The team has today off before practicing tomorrow in preparation for Tuesday’s game at Southeast Division leader Carolina.

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