Alex Ovechkin in goal-a-game form as NHL playoffs begin

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Oates put Ovechkin with grinders Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle instead of skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer, emphasizing their ability to play “north-south” hockey.

That’s when Ovechkin saw the benefits of playing right wing. “We got to a point where he said, ‘Sure,’ and I’m glad he had some success and he can keep going,” Oates said.

It didn’t happen immediately. Instead, it took until Ovechkin was reunited with Backstrom in mid-March for him to light up the rest of the Eastern Conference.

But he did all of it at right wing.

“He seems to be a much more visible player on the ice,” Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “You notice him a lot more when you’re watching the tape, and you notice him when you’re watching the highlights that he’s on the ball.”

Not only did it make him more of a task for opponents to contain, but changing positions earned him respect and admiration from the coaching staff.

“He’s played his whole life on one side of the ice and [made] all the reads, and he was willing to switch. And he switched for, obviously, himself but for the guys and the team and that’s what we asked,” Oates said. “No matter which way you cut it, it’s very unselfish.”

What changed to spark this scorching stretch depends on who you ask. Ovechkin and Oates insisted that the chances were there during the first half of the season; the results just weren’t there yet.

“Sometimes you need some luck to put it in,” Ovechkin said. “Of course, you have to find a way to find this luck. It can’t be luck all the time. Sometimes you have to score maybe not typical goal but maybe you have to go to the middle of the ice and front of the net and find the rebound and maybe tip the puck. That kind of goals I have this year, too.”

That one-timer on the power play was responsible for plenty of goals, but Ovechkin found different looks at the net, too.

“It’s good that he scores from different situations,” Backstrom said. “You know he’s a great shooter. It doesn’t really matter where you give him the puck on the ice, he’s going to get a good shot, a chance to score, wherever it is.”

Scoring more than anyone else, a 55-goal pace in an 82-game season, put Ovechkin in the discussion for the Hart Trophy, along with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and John Tavares of the New York Islanders.

Ovechkin conceded being happy he and the Caps overcame a slow start, but he brushed off worrying about being MVP.

“It’s not my choice,” he said. “If I’m going to be nominated, I’m going to be nominated. If not, if somebody else is going to be. It’s lots of great players out there who deserve it, too.”

Oates knows he’s biased, but in recent weeks he hasn’t been bashful about endorsing Ovechkin for MVP. Once more, he brought it up on the final night of the regular season.

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