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Ovechkin gets 300th goal but eyes first Stanley Cup

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin slotted another career milestone on Tuesday, scoring a 300th goal in the 3-2 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A purebred sniper now averaging 50 goals a season, the playful Russian has throughout his career delighted in celebrating each tally as if it were a Stanley Cup winner.

But despite the significance of his first period power play marker, Ovechkin's joy was muted in comparison, a small fist pump, a group hug and back to work.

"When you score 300 goals in six years it's a big accomplishment," Ovechkin told reporters. "I play for a great team and great team mates, who give me great chances to score.

"It (the win) was huge for us, we clinched our division and we want to be first overall."

For the last three years, Ovechkin or Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby have had their name engraved on the "Rocket" Richard trophy that goes to the NHL's top goal scorer.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY

But this season another name will appear on the silverware.

Despite missing three months with concussion, Crosby's 32 goals are still one better than Ovechkin, whose absence from the scoring sheets cannot be so easily explained.

For only the second time in his career, Ovechkin will not score at least 50 goals, his previous low of 46 coming in his sophomore campaign.

In the last three seasons, the Russian has potted 65, 56 and 50 and this year with 31 and two games remaining in the regular season has yet to crack the top 10.

One of the NHL's most feared sharpshooters, Ovechkin has been trying to reign in his natural instincts and become a more complete two-way player, embracing the defensive philosophy being pitched by coach Bruce Boudreau.

The free-wheeling Capitals learned a tough lesson last season when they led the NHL in scoring, won the Presidents' trophy as regular season champions but then crashed out in the first round of the playoffs.

This season the Capitals have put a higher premium on defense, ranking fourth in goals against.

"You're not going to go through a whole game without the other team having scoring chances but I thought overall we played pretty well," praised Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.

"I don't know if he (Ovechkin) is ramping it up (for the playoffs) but he could have had a few more tonight."

While Ovechkin may not be scoring as many goals, he is scoring important ones and finding his mojo as the Capitals prepare to make another run at a Stanley Cup.

Ovechkin's goal gave him 26 points in his last 20 games while he continues to lead the NHL with 11 game-winning tallies and has set up eight other game winners.

"It's time right now to get ready for the playoffs," said Ovechkin. "You get excited, the whole team is excited."

(Editing by Ossian Shine; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)