By Allan Muir
Alex Ovechkin scored four goals in the Capitals' 6-5 win over the Lightning on Tuesday night, giving him a league-leading 26 goals and putting him on pace to score a career-high 72 this season.
It also put him on target to reach another eye-popping milestone.
And he can do it tonight.
Ovechkin comes into the game against the Panthers needing a hat trick to reach the remarkable plateau of 50 goals in 50 games, dating back to March 19 of last season, when he scored against the Penguins. (He now has 48 in his last 50 since March 17.)
A hat trick is a tall order given that Ovechkin has never scored more than five goals in successive games, but he's also never had much trouble against Florida, having scored 30 goals in 47 career games against the Panthers. And it doesn't hurt his chances that Tim Thomas, Florida's No. 1 stopper, is injured, forcing Scott Clemmensen (3.89 GAA, .857 save percentage) to step between the pipes.
Of course, even if Ovechkin does light it up tonight, he won't be recognized as an official 50/50 man. To earn that distinction, a player must score 50 goals in his team's first 50 games of the season, duplicating the feat of Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who scored 50 goals in the 50-game 1944-45 season. That stipulation has vexed players -- including Cam Neely and Jari Kurri -- in the past. But even spread over two seasons, 50-in-5o is still a heck of an achievement, especially considering how far Ovechkin's game had seemed to have declined just before he began this streak. It's a tribute to his determination, and the gerrymandering of his style by coach Adam Oates, that he's reclaimed his place as the most exciting player in the game.
The 50-in-50 club
Players with 50 goals in their team’s first 50 games of a season:
Maurice Richard (Canadiens, 1944-45, 50 games)
Mike Bossy (Islanders, 1980-81, 50 games)
Wayne Gretzky (Oilers, 1981-82, 39 games; '83-84, 42 games; '84-85, 49 games)
Mario Lemieux (Penguins, 1988-89, 46 games)
Brett Hull (Blues, 1990-91, 49 games; '91-92, 50 games)
Players with 50 goals in their first 50 games of a season:
Jari Kurri (Oilers, 1984-85, in 50 of team's first 53 games)
Alexander Mogilny (Sabres, 1992-93, in 46 of team's first 53)
Mario Lemieux (Penguins, 1992-93, in 48 of team's first 72; '95-96, in 50 of team's first 59)Cam Neely
, 1993-94, in 44 of team's first 66)