- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2010

With the Capitals securely atop the NHL standings, Alexander Ovechkin certainly made his bid to capture some more hardware Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Having fallen behind Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby by two goals in the NHL’s goal-scoring race, Ovechkin scored a pair of goals in the final period to bring himself into a tie with his rival for the Richard Trophy and just two goals shy of his fourth 50-goal season in five years.

He also briefly tied Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin with his empty-net tally with just two-tenths of a second left in regulation, although the Canucks’ standout got his 107th point with an assist late in a 4-3 loss to the Avalanche.

For Ovechkin, it seems to be the sign that the Caps’ star is breaking out of a slump, as he has recorded a two-assist night Monday against Boston, then followed up with the effort against Pittsburgh.

“I’ve had lots of chances to score goals, and finally it did go in,” Ovechkin told reporters after the game. “The last 10 minutes, I just felt unbelievable.”

His coach noticed signs of him ramping up his game during Monday’s game against the Bruins.

“You can see him getting on the cusp of breaking out,” Bruce Boudreau said Monday. “Thats a positive sign.”

It certainly has been an unusually quiet stretch for Ovechkin, recording just four goals in 18 games since a hat-trick against the Penguins back on Feb. 7.

Boudreau said Monday he had noticed a change in the star’s style after he returned from a two-game suspension for a hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell on March 14, as he had only a pair of tallies in the eight games after returning from his suspension heading into the Penguins game.

He competed. He got involved. He wasnt afraid to hit [against the Bruins],” Boudreau remarked. “Well, hes never afraid, but ever since that suspension, I think it has been on his mind. When he was going in and hitting guys, he was turning away a bit. Hes got to be him. I said, ‘You’re not a dirty player, so just play the way you normally play.’”

With just two games left in the regular-season, Friday’s game against Atlanta could be Ovechkin’s best chance to try to claim his third straight Richard Trophy and his second Ross trophy in three years.

The Thrashers gave the Caps a tight, defensive game last week in a 2-1 Washington win, but with Atlanta’s playoff hopes extinguished following Tuesday night’s loss to New Jersey, the Thrashers figure to return to a more open style of play Friday night with nothing on the line for them but individual statistics.

Ovechkin has had great success playing Atlanta, recording more goals (26) and points (56) in 35 career games against the Thrashers than any other NHL opponent — including three goals and four assists in five games this season.

A big night would certainly bolster his chances with more defensive-minded Boston closing out the regular-season Sunday, as the B’s are likely going to still be looking to secure one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot at that point.

Despite missing 10 games due to injury and a pair of suspensions, Ovechkin still is in the thick of the two races, and his absence will give him the tiebreaker in one of the awards. Should Ovechkin tie Sedin for the points title, Ovechkin would be the recipient by virture of having more points-per-game than the Vancouver forward.

As for the Richard Trophy, the competition is tight between Ovechkin, Crosby and Steven Stamkos — who trails the two by just one tally — but there is no tiebreaker, meaning the scenario exists where the two rivals could end up sharing the award.

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