Alex Ovechkin will be given every opportunity to add to his impressive trophy collection this weekend.
With the Eastern Conference crown long since locked up, the Washington Capitals have been rotating regulars in and out of the lineup to ensure they're rested for the playoffs. But coach Bruce Boudreau says his captain won't be asked to watch either of the last two regular-season games from the press box.
"Do you want that responsibility?" Boudreau said Thursday with a chuckle.
Ovechkin is in the hunt to reclaim both the Art Ross Trophy (most points) and Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) with a few days to play in the season. The coach won't stand in the way of his pursuit.
"There's a lot on the line for him," Boudreau said on a conference call. "It's a really difficult decision when you think about it. I mean, not only have you got the Art Ross, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, the accolades that go with that. There's a lot going on.
"You know, he rested when he got suspended. He hasn't played a lot. He doesn't practise a lot. It's not a question of him needing rest. He's in great shape and he's raring to go."
Washington hosts Atlanta on Friday and Boston on Sunday.
In many ways, this has been a tough season for Ovechkin. The Russian superstar received a pair of two-game suspensions from the league -- making him "a little gun shy," according to Bourdreau --and was heavily criticized for not making himself more available to the media during the Olympics.
However, he remains among the NHL leaders despite missing 10 games (the others were due to injury). The Caps public relations staff sent an email to the media this week detailing his candidacy for the MVP award, claiming it has been his best year yet.
"If he would have been healthy all those (games) I think his numbers would be really out of here, out of reach," said Boudreau.
The numbers have all been favourable for the Capitals this season.
They clinched the Presidents' Trophy last weekend and enter play Thursday with a 19-point lead over second-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference. That means Washington will likely finish the year with the biggest conference-winning cushion since Detroit ended up 24 points ahead of Colorado in the West in 1995-96.
One of the biggest challenges for Boudreau has been figuring out a way to keep everyone involved. The Capitals acquired veterans Scott Walker, Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo at the trade deadline and have been shuffling players in and out of the lineup since -- even sitting star defenceman Mike Green for two games.
Boudreau addressed the issue with his team and thinks everyone has done their best to embrace the rotating lineup.
"I think it can be a healthy situation if everybody's on the same page, which I think we are," said Boudreau. "(It) could be a negative if the ones that aren't playing haven't bought into the whole program."
Many observers are labelling the Capitals as Eastern Conference favourites heading into the playoffs, but Boudreau believes the path to the Stanley Cup still goes through Pittsburgh.
Even though the Caps beat the Penguins in all four regular-season meetings, he doesn't feel as though his team has established an advantage over the defending champions.
"I'm certainly not looking forward to playing them," said Bourdreau. "I hope they lose in the first round. If we have to play them, we have to play them. I mean, I think the road has to go through them.
"They're the champions, (there's) no reason to think they can't do it again. They've got the same cast of characters."