Time for Ovechkin to step up

Alex Ovechkin knows all about playing in a Game 7. Every NHL playoff series of the two-time MVP's career has gone the distance.

His Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals probably weren't even considering the possibility of dealing with another Game 7 when they took a 3-1 series lead over the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round this year.

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Alex Ovechkin hopes to celebrate tonight.

And yet here they are, due in large part to spectacular goaltending by Montreal's Jaroslav Halak: The Capitals host the Canadiens tonight, with the stakes quite clear.

"One team is going to be [going on] vacation," Ovechkin said with a smile yesterday, "and, you know, I don't want to think about vacation right now."

The Capitals went 1-2 in Game 7s over the previous two seasons - all at home. This time, they're facing a Canadiens club that won the series' last two games as Halak stopped 90 of 92 shots.

"He bailed us out," Canadiens forward Brian Gionta said, "and this time of year, that's what it's all about. You get a goalie who stands on his head for a game or two, it changes a lot of momentum in the series."

In Montreal's 4-1 victory at home Monday night, Halak made 53 saves, and Ovechkin was held without a goal or an assist for the second time this postseason.

All eyes will be on those two players tonight.

If the Capitals win, they will face the Flyers in the second round.

This Game 7, according to Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, is "another opportunity for [Ovechkin's] reputation to grow. I mean, people love Alex Ovechkin stories, and if he was to rise to the occasion - and I know he will mentally; hopefully he can on the ice - then everybody will build that up probably twice as much as it should have been. And if he doesn't succeed, they'll build it up twice as much as it should have been in that respect, too."

Boudreau and several of his players insisted that they are not intimidated by Halak or worried that they simply cannot score on him.

"I bet you, if you ask Alex, he still thinks he's going to score a goal," Boudreau said. "He thinks he's going to score every game."

The Caps will be without defenseman Tom Poti, who was hit in the eye by a puck in Game 6. Boudreau said that Poti has "a pretty significant injury" and could be sidelined 2 to 3 weeks - or longer - if the Capitals stay in the playoffs.

 

Noteworthy

 

* Marc Savard has been cleared to play and will be available for the Boston Bruins' second-round playoff series against Pittsburgh or the Flyers. Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion on March 7 after a hit by Penguins forward Matt Cooke. Savard started skating again last Monday. In 41 regular-season games, Savard totaled 33 points (10 goals) after leading the Bruins in scoring the previous three seasons.

 

In last night's playoff game:

 

* At Glendale, Ariz., Pavel Datsyuk scored twice in a span of less than 2 minutes and Nicklas Lidstrom had two goals a day shy of his 40th birthday as the Detroit Red Wings routed the Phoenix Coyotes, 6-1, in Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series.

The Red Wings advance to a Western Conference second-round matchup with top-seeded San Jose.