By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Alex Ovechkin says he has put the controversy behind him.
Tonight at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, the Washington Capitals star will find out whether Daniel Briere and the Sabres have done the same.
It is the teams' first meeting since Ovechkin's check from behind on Briere, a vicious hit that sent the Sabres' high-scoring captain hurtling headfirst into the boards and the 21-year-old Russian to the locker room early in a Dec. 2 game at Verizon Center.
Briere escaped serious injury and Ovechkin escaped a suspension, instead incurring only a $1,000 fine after a hearing with the NHL.
"If I hit him hard like I can, it's much worse," Ovechkin said, referring to the fact that he outweighs Briere by 41 pounds. "It was just a situation where I didn't want to hit him. I didn't hit him hard, if you saw this replay. I'm glad he's okay and not much happened to him."
Immediately after the Capitals' surprising 7-4 victory, Briere called Ovechkin's hit "gutless," while Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff, Sabres players and fans called for him to be suspended.
As a result, Ovechkin said he will be prepared for anything.
"If it will be rough, I love play rough," he said. "I'm ready to fight if somebody want to fight me. I'm not afraid. I love make hits if somebody hit me. It's hockey. It's my game."
It could be argued that Ovechkin has enjoyed one of the most productive stretches of his brief but brilliant career since the first Buffalo contest. Including the goal he scored 7 minutes 45 seconds into that game, he has had eight goals and 20 points over the past 10 games, helping the Capitals to a 6-3-1 record in that span. He also has been more of a physical presence and played with greater commitment at the defensive end.
With a goal in the Capitals' 3-2 victory Saturday in Toronto, Ovechkin moved into a tie with Atlanta's Marian Hossa for the league lead with 24. His 47 points rank fourth, eight behind points leader Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh.
Ovechkin said he hopes both teams approach tonight as just another game in a long season, despite what happened last time and the controversy that ensued.
"It's just [a game against] Buffalo," Ovechkin said, shrugging.
Briere, the Sabres' leading scorer with 14 goals and 42 points, had just dumped the puck into the Capitals zone when he turned his back and headed for the bench. Ovechkin arrived a moment later and hit Briere between the shoulder blades, flinging Briere into the boards and sparking a minor melee behind the Capitals net. Although Briere initially appeared hurt, he returned to the game without missing a shift. Ovechkin, meantime, received a five minute major penalty for boarding, five minutes for fighting and was ejected.
Asked if he has sought any tips from noted Capitals tough guy Donald Brashear, Ovechkin smiled and said, "No, I don't need to."