Alex Ovechkin is playing like an MVP while pacing the NHL in goals as the streaking Washington Capitals sit atop their division.
Yes, things are beginning to sound like days past in the nation's capital.
Washington seeks a ninth consecutive victory as it goes on the road looking to snap the Ottawa Senators' three-game winning streak Thursday night in a possible first-round playoff preview.
Ovechkin finished with a career-worst 65 points as Washington's four-season reign as Southeast Division champion came to an end in 2011-12.
It seemed the Capitals' five-year playoff run also was in jeopardy after Ovechkin had just three goals during a 2-8-1 start to 2013 under first-year coach Adam Oates.
Ovechkin, though, has come alive in the second half of the season with 19 goals and nine assists over his last 18 games. The captain has helped guide Washington (24-17-2) to its longest winning streak since a nine-game run Feb. 26-March 15, 2011, and a four-point lead atop the division over second-place Winnipeg.
The Capitals' current 12-1-1 stretch began with a sweep of back-to-back road games versus the Jets on March 21 and 22.
Ovechkin had a goal and an assist for the second straight game in Tuesday's 5-1 win over Toronto. His 28 goals lead the league with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos one behind.
Oates believes Ovechkin has a chance to win his third Hart Trophy.
"I'm obviously very biased about that, so my answer would be, yeah, absolutely," Oates said of Ovechkin, who won back-to-back MVPs in 2008 and '09. "Alex has really led our team. You see it every night now."
Though the Capitals' 50 points equal the Senators for sixth in the Eastern Conference, Washington would have home-ice advantage in a playoff series between the teams if it gets the No. 3 seed for winning the Southeast.
"To get a decisive win (Tuesday), it shows us that we belong (among the top playoff seeds)," said forward Troy Brouwer, who has four goals over his last three games.
Ottawa (22-14-6) trails Toronto by three points for the fifth seed but has seemed to get back on track after dropping a season-worst five straight March 30-April 9.
The Senators are getting healthier, too. Defenseman Jared Cowen played for the first time all season and forward Milan Michalek scored for the second straight game following a 15-game absence in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Carolina.
Cowen, expected to miss the entire season after having hip surgery in November, got back into the groove by fighting twice.
"I was looking to get some bumps and feel a little more comfortable," Cowen said. "It was a couple more bumps than I was expecting but it was good and it went well for me."
Michalek had been out after having arthroscopic right knee surgery.
"I'm just trying to get back in game shape. So far it's going good and hopefully it will keep going that way," said Michalek, who had a team-high 35 goals last season. "I've been injured a lot and had some bad luck. Hopefully it's turning."
Michalek scored the tying goal as Ottawa overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Washington 3-2 on Jan. 29 in the teams' lone meeting this season. Craig Anderson, who has an NHL-best 1.55 goals-against average, made 31 saves in that contest and is 4-1-1 with a 2.17 GAA in his last six starts versus the Capitals.
Washington could counter with Braden Holtby, who has won his last six starts while posting a 2.28 GAA.
Tuesday's win opened a four-game homestand for Ottawa, which is 14-3-3 at home.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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