In his 600th game as a National Hockey League player, the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin did not emerge with a victory.
Ottawa beat Washington 2-1 in overtime Thursday night at Verizon Center in a game that meant a whole lot more to the Senators than it did to the Caps. By winning, Ottawa clinched in a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something the Caps did by beating Winnipeg on Tuesday. Chances are the Senators and Caps could meet again in the first round.
If that happens, losses obviously become harder to swallow. With Thursday's game and the regular-season finale at home against Boston on Saturday, perhaps the main thing is to simply enjoy watching a player who has again become a treasure without worrying about the result.
Ovechkin scored the Caps' lone goal Thursday, a tally Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson called "a beauty." It was his 32nd of this lockout-shortened season, best in the league. Not bad at all, particularly considering he had two in the first 10 games.
He may not win it, but he's forced himself into the conversation for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the league's most valuable player.
There is about zero question he's the most valuable on the Caps roster. After a couple of un-Ovechkin-like seasons, he's rebounded in a big way and rejuvenated his team's Stanley Cup hopes.
"He's worked hard," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "He sees his opportunities, and he knows when to seize them. He's so strong, he can bull around guys like he did tonight. Everything just seems to be working for him.
"I can't imagine how tough it is when guys are watching video clips before the game just to stop him. He finds ways to get around that and it is pretty amazing."
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean has watched a lot of video of Ovechkin. His team has done a pretty good job of it, considering the Senators won all three games against the Caps this season. That doesn't mean it has been easy, or that the Senators relish a playoff matchup with the Caps.
"His ability to shoot the puck, his competitive spirit, his passion are what make him a special player," MacLean said. "The way he can score makes him so dangerous. The physical game he brings is also a factor.
"They do a nice job of hiding him and sliding him and moving him around. It's a very complex thing to get organized against. It also helps him that they have so many other weapons to prepare for that it makes it harder to prepare for Alex."
Added the Senators' Alfredsson, "You can tell he's got confidence now, that's for sure."
Caps defenseman Steve Olesky didn't join the team until March. He never saw the Ovechkin who had subpar (for him) seasons, never saw the occasional funks, didn't see the bad start to this season. All he's seen is a guy who has 23 goals and 11 assists in his past 22 games. Thirty-four points in 22 games? Over a full season, that's a 127-point season. Which is an absurd total.
To Olesky, the value of an Ovechkin goes beyond that.
"I think he does a lot of things away from scoring goals and putting up points that a lot of people don't see," Olesky said. "You look at a lot of skill guys in the league, you compare them to him and he's a physical force as well as an offensive force. He's throwing his weight around, being physical presence, blocking shots, trying to do other things.
"You also have to consider the time he's scoring. This is when your best players have to step up. That's exactly what he's done. Heading into the home stretch and the playoffs, that's when your MVP has to stand up and that's exactly what he's done for us time after time."
In his 600 games, Ovechkin now has 371 goals. Only 27, he could do this for a while. Saturday offers a rare chance to just sit back and watch and enjoy without worrying about the scoreboard. The games will count again soon enough, and count plenty. Playoff hockey is coming to town again. So take some time beforehand to appreciate the major reason why.
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