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Ovechkin in vintage form as Capitals close on playoff spot

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin - The Canadian Press

After a quiet start to the season, Alex Ovechkin has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch as the Washington Capitals close on a playoff spot.

The Capitals can jump the Detroit Red Wings to sit in the final wild-card spot with a win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. Their surge has timed up with Ovechkin getting back to his old ways of filling the net.

Following their All-Star break on Feb. 5, the Capitals sat seven points out of a playoff spot. Ovechkin had just nine goals and 31 points in 44 games to that point, with questions arising over whether Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record was falling out of reach for the star winger. 

The 38-year-old, who was not named to the All-Star Game, has been on a tear since, posting 10 goals and 19 points in 19 games over the past six weeks. 

Ovechkin is now 53 goals back of Gretzky's record of 894 and is on pace to total 24 this season, which would leave him needing to score 24 again in each of the next two seasons to tie the Great One. The Great Eight is signed through the 2025-26 season at a cap hit of $9.5 million and could continue to lower the number for the next two years if he continues his recent pace.

The Capitals enter Monday's game having won two straight and a 6-4-0 record in their past 10. Ovechkin lifted the Capitals to a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday with the 127th game-winning goal of his career. He sits second all-time in that category behind Jaromir Jagr, who has 135. 

“The guy’s amazing,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said after his team's loss. “Even at this age, he finds somehow to contribute. I’ve seen that guy score a lot of goals live.”

Still sitting seven points out of the final wild-card spot – albeit with three games in hand – to open trade deadline week on March 4, the Capitals elected to be sellers this month. Washington traded winger Anthony Mantha to the Vegas Golden Knights, defenceman Joel Edmundson to the Toronto Maple Leafs and shipped forward Evgeny Kuznetsov to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Thanks to a surge on their part and a downfall for the Red Wings, the Capitals now find themselves right in the thick of the playoff hunt. 

With a win Monday, the Capitals would move a point ahead of the Red Wings while still owning a game in hand. The New York Islanders would be two points back, with the two teams equal in games played, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils all continuing to hang around within seven points of the last playoff spot.

“You look at these games, they’re meaningful hockey, playoff-type hockey for us,” forward Tom Wilson said Saturday. “It’s great experience for everyone in the room. We’re rallying together, we’re playing well, we’re playing for each other and that’s what it’s all about this time of the year.

"If we keep playing like that, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”