By Darren Eliot
March 23, 2009

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 50th goal last week and proceeded to celebrate by dropping his stick and moving his hands up and down as if to say, "This is too hot!"

A debate ensued: Too funny or too much?

Reaction from media and players ran the gamut from outrage to amusement. I was in Tampa -- where said celebration took place -- over the weekend and they were still talking about Ovechkin's antics. Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said that having grown up as a player in the Flyers organization, if someone had carried on like that when he was active, there would have been "a three hour first period" due to payback tactics. Ryan Malone, who was in the penalty box when Ovechkin scored and did his pantomime, said he was outraged because the act showed up the Lightning and their goaltender, Mike McKenna.

All of which gets to the heart of the matter from where I sit.

Malone grew up the son of former NHLer Greg Malone, whose sensibilities no doubt reflect the era in which he played. I also played in '80s and my similarly-molded outlook is that had a player done that beside my net -- and too many scorers to mention had chances to celebrate at my expense during my days tending goal for the Kings, Red Wings and Sabres -- I probably would have been the first to skate over and kick the offender's stick to the blueline.

But that, as they say, was then and this is now. You can't apply sensibilities steeped in the '80s to today's game. The reaction to and acceptance of such antics, as well as the act of celebrating itself, are different today for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is the flow of instantaneous information (see: Twitter and YouTube) as well as the heightened coalescence of sports and entertainment as pop culture.

And it isn't as if Ovechkin's outburst was the first of its kind. The NHL in '80s featured Tiger Williams riding his stick and Bernie Nicholls' overtly demonstrative gesture that became known as the "pumper-nicholl."

For the most part, players put up with those celebratory acts even then. Why? Because Williams and Nicholls were showmen. They weren't necessarily showing up the opposition -- and that's a critical difference. I think the same applies to Ovechkin: he puts on a show, yes, but showing up an opponent isn't part of his thought process. He's just an otherworldly hockey talent who also happens to be a ham. Like Williams and Nicholls, Ovechkin is a character who is not out to challenge the character of the other team.

Still, if an opposing player should take exception to such hijinks, I have no problem with that, either. Every player has the right to see it in his own way, especially in the context of competition. Not that Williams and Nicholls got free passes. Some opponents did challenge them for their over-the-top displays. Both players were competitors, so they answered those tests just as Ovechkin might have to at some point.

Lost in all of this is how teammates Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom reacted. They were privy to Ovechkin's idea of the flaming stick and said they would go along with it and join in -- never really intending to do so. So they left Ovechkin hanging, standing back and having a laugh at his expense while he did his act. Now that is funny. Guys busting on each other and setting each other up is as traditional as it gets when you delve into locker room dynamics. For as contrived as Ovechkin's hot stick shtick was, the Capitals' reaction was pure fun.

In the end, no matter what your perspective, boys will be boys and I trust that the fabric of the game is still intact after all has been said and done in this matter.

Outspoken commentator Don Cherry had a few choice words about the latest Ovechkin show. Check them out and weigh in.

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