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Ovechkin scores two in NHL debut to lift Caps

WASHINGTON (AP) -- His first NHL check was so fierce it dislodged

a support beam. He refused to let his team lose, twice answering

with goals less than 90 seconds after the opponents took the lead.

And when his face appeared on the large scoreboard, he stuck out

his tongue and flashed a charismatic smile.

"I feel my dreams come true," Alexander Ovechkin said. "I

play in the NHL. First game, we win."

The 20-year-old Russian, who has often been compared to a young

Mario Lemieux, became the first Washington Capitals player to score

twice in his NHL debut, leading a 3-2 victory over the Columbus

Blue Jackets on Wednesday night in the league's first game at the

MCI Center in 550 days.

"He was worth the admission tonight," Columbus coach Gerard

Gallant said. "He was real good."

The Capitals welcomed 16,325 fans -- some still feeling jilted

over the lockout that wiped out a season -- to the 18,277-seat arena

with a pregame street festival and an opening ceremony that looked

like something out of the Olympic Games. The theme intertwined the

return of hockey with the creation of the universe, and the players

skated onto the ice carrying glowing, plastic torches.

"I am so excited for things to be back -- last year was

horrible," said face-painted fan Amber Turbyne of Waldorf, Md. "I

usually hold a grudge like something awful, but I'm too happy to

have hockey back."

The fans will be more excited now that they've seen what

Ovechkin can do.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft wasted no time making

his presence known. On his first shift, 40 seconds into the game,

he sideswiped Radoslav Suchy into the boards behind the Columbus

net with such force that a beam fell to the ice. The game was

delayed for a couple of minutes while it was replaced.

"The first check he threw to start the game, I said, 'That's my

boy. That's what we want," said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who

is counting on Ovechkin to help lure fans in a city that had

trouble embracing hockey even before the sport's labor troubles

began. "We want our star players to work hard and be a part of the

team. Every time we got down, he answered, and that's what

superstars do."

Dainius Zubrus also scored for the Capitals, and new captain

Jeff Halpern had three assists in a game that included 18 penalties

and plenty of flow with the new offensive-minded rules. All five

goals came in a 10-minute span in the second period.

"With the new rules and the speed of the players and the way

that the game was officiated tonight, if that's the way it's going

to be, then goodness gracious -- it's an exciting game out there,"

Washington coach Glen Hanlon said.

Dan Fritsche scored both goals for Columbus, twice as many as he

had as a rookie before the lockout. Rich Nash, the Blue Jackets'

emerging star, aggravated a sprained ankle and did not play in the

third period.

Ovechkin's jarring check was the one and only highlight of a

dull first period that made it seems as if hockey should've stayed

away, but he and fellow 20-year-old Fritsche brought the game to

life in the second period.

Fritsche took advantage of the new rule that allows the two-line

pass by getting the puck from Gilbert Brule, then easily beating

defenseman Matthew Biron to the puck to score.

Ovechkin responded 23 seconds later, stroking a one-timer from

Halpern that beat goaltender Pascal Leclaire on the stick side.

Ovechkin raised both hands and dropped to one knee as he was mugged

by teammates.

Fritsche put in a rebound to make it 2-1 with the teams skating

four-on-four three minutes later, but Ovechkin then tied the score

again, knocking home a cross-crease pass from Halpern on a power

play.

Leonsis was sitting with Ovechkin's family. His mother, a former

basketball star, muttered something in Russian after the second

goal.

"I asked the brother, 'What did she say?" Leonsis said. "She

said 'I'm proud of him, but we have to win the game.' I'm like,

'That's exactly the way to do it."

Halpern threaded another pass for his third assist, slotting the

puck between a defenseman's legs for Zubrus on a power play. The

goal turned out to be the game-winner, with both teams wasting

multiple power-play chances in a scoreless third period.

"We win this game, and I scored the goals," Ovechkin said.

"And I'm very happy."Game notes
Gallant said Nash is "touch and go" for the team's next

game, Friday at home against Calgary. ... Counting the preseason,

Ovechkin has six goals and three assists in his last three games.

... Columbus defenseman Adam Foote played in his 800th NHL game.