ARLINGTON, Va. -- The stage keeps getting bigger, and Alex Ovechkin couldn't be happier in his starring role.
The Washington Capitals' right winger understands he has never had a night in his NHL career like he will have tonight -- Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs in a marquee matchup with the Penguins on his home ice, Verizon Center, with the hockey world watching.
Getting drafted first overall in 2004 wasn't quite like this. Neither was winning the league scoring title last year or being a finalist now to repeat as the recipient of the Hart Trophy as MVP.
He has to share top billing tonight with Penguins center Sidney Crosby, of course, but, as for the extra limelight, bring it on, Ovechkin said yesterday.
"It's always great when the fans want to see you and the media gives you more attention than anybody. It's good. It's fun," said Ovechkin, who has pulled some hot-dog moves at the All-Star skills competition and in his goal celebrations but insists he doesn't get distracted when the clock is running.
"I don't think when you're playing the game you think, 'Oh, my God, I have to do something that after the game you can talk about it with media or fans,' " he said. "You think all the time only about a victory, winning the game."
Off the ice, he admitted with a grin, he reads his newspaper clippings and watches his sound bites on TV.
"All the time," he said. "I love it.
"I think, 'Wow, it's me.' I am who I am. If I'm in this position, why can't I read news about me? I love this kind of stuff."
Capitals forward Brooks Laichunderstands how riveting this series has been for fans, but he said the tight games aren't as nerve-racking for players.
"I think it's worse for [everyone else]," he said. "We have control over it. We're involved in it.
"But, then again, watching the highlights [yesterday of Washington's Game 6, 5-4 overtime win], what a hockey game. I talked to my parents and my brother. He said he was up and out of the couch when we scored. It's lived up to the hype of the super series, and I think it's great for hockey in general."
Laich got his brother, Jordan, 23, a flight from Saskatchewan this morning so he can attend the game. Ovechkin was having more trouble for about 20 family members and friends. He can get tickets but was hoping for more.
"I tried to order a box for my family and my friends. We can't find it," he said. "The box is a problem because there are lots of rich people here in Washington, and they're crazy about hockey.
"It's a pretty cool atmosphere. D.C. has changed a lot the last couple years. It's a hockey town. The fans are great. It's crazy. They scream. [Tonight] is going to be unbelievable, I can tell you."
After formerly coaching Hershey, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau expected to split his viewing attention last night between the Bears' Game 7 against the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Game 6 of the Boston-Carolina NHL series.
Boudreau has more than a passing interest in the AHL series, which has mirrored the parents clubs' series.
"Every time Hershey's won, we've won, and every time Wilkes-Barre's won, Pittsburgh's won," he said. "I told Bob [Woods, Bears coach] he'd better win."
Boudreau wouldn't commit to keeping Laich, center David Steckel and right winger Matt Bradley together, even though they combined for the overtime winner in Game 6 after being reunited earlier in that game.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.