- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri and Teemu Selanne. Those are the only players in NHL history to reach 300 goals faster than the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, who did so Tuesday night.

But those Hall of Famers (and future Hall of Famer in Selanne’s case) all have their names etched on the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin’s young career has yet to get him and the Caps to that point, but now the superstar winger seems to be ratcheting up his game at the perfect time to chase down that trophy.

“It’s time right now to be ready for playoffs. The best time of year is coming - playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “You get excited. I think whole team get excited.”

The Caps are excited because after Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in the home finale, the finish line for this long regular season, with all its ebbs and flows for Ovechkin and Washington, is finally in sight.

Ovechkin’s streaks and slumps haven’t necessarily coincided with those of his team, though he does lead the league in game-winning goals. And from now on, his play may very well be tied to whether the Caps enjoy a long run this spring.

Alex is one of the most talented players that I’ve ever played with,” center Jason Arnott said, “so when he’s going, the rest of us are going.”

Right now, that’s rolling atop the Eastern Conference - riding Ovechkin’s hot play.

Since returning from a three-game absence to heal up from an undisclosed “nagging” injury, he’s been flying around and displaying not only a physical presence but the offensive superstardom that everyone is used to seeing.

On Tuesday night in Toronto, Ovechkin hit the 300-goal milestone - a “big accomplishment” - but probably could have done even more.

“He’s playing well. He’s arguably the best player in the world. It’s a big stage in Toronto, of course he’s gonna rise,” winger Mike Knuble said. “If he got a break or two, he could’ve had three or four.”

That night Ovechkin had to settle for one - and another Caps victory. But that’s how it has been lately, especially with the All-Star Russian winger putting up goals again - unlike several long droughts earlier this year.

His coach can’t explain why Ovechkin has seemingly raised his game back to its usually high level, but he did have at least one idea.

“He’s a little more accurate with his shot. I think that’s probably the main thing,” Bruce Boudreau said. “It wasn’t very accurate at the beginning. But you go through times where you go a long time without [scoring].”

Not lately, however. Ovechkin hasn’t gone more than three games without a goal since mid-January.

Back then the Caps were floundering. Now they’re just rounding into form - naturally, following his lead.

“He’s feeling good,” Knuble said. “That’s a guy you want going 100 percent.”

For the Caps, the timing on that couldn’t be better.

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