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No standing ovation for Ovechkin

Alexander Ovechkin is No. 1 among Buffalo Sabres fans.

As in the No. 1 villain.

The Washington Capitals wunderkind was greeted with full-throated boos throughout Tuesday's dismantling of the Caps in HSBC Arena. It started from the moment he stepped on the ice 45 seconds after the opening faceoff and continued until the final buzzer.

The venomous reception vaulted Ovechkin past the New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, who also hears jeers during every visit and had been the most booed Sabres opponent.

Ovechkin said before the game he was ready for anything. The fans brought a lot. In addition to the noise, there were signs and even rubber chickens being waved. The anger, of course, came from Ovechkin's hit from behind on Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere on Dec. 2.

"I think Buffalo fans don't like me right now because I hit his leader, but it's OK," said Ovechkin, coincidentally sitting in the same locker stall that Jagr usually uses. "I'm ready and I like it. If fans boo to me, I'm getting more excited and have more emotion."

Ovechkin and Briere angrily went face-to-face during a stoppage in play late in the first period, but it was broken up before it escalated. Ovechkin reiterated during the morning that the boarding penalty was accidental.

"Everybody knows I'm not a dirty player, and it's just one hit in people's career. It was just an accident," he said.

Buffalo is the first town in which Ovechkin is viewed in a negative light. Washington writers said he always gets cheers in opposing cities, and occasionally it's a better reception than home players receive.

"I don't care what people say about me and what they think about me," Ovechkin said. "I care about my team and I care about myself. Lots of people watch hockey, and I think everybody has different thinking."

The 21-year-old smiled and joked throughout the media gathering. He brought a round of laughter with his response to a question about whether he expected the Sabres to try to exact physical revenge.

"I'm ready for everything," Ovechkin said. "If they hit me I try to take the hits. I don't know. It's a just a game, and if somebody wants to kill me, kill me. I'm open."

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The popularity of the Sabres -- or the computer literacy of Buffalonians -- continues to show in the All-Star Game voting, which closes Tuesday. Briere, defenseman Brian Campbell and goaltender Ryan Miller hold starting spots in the latest update.

Campbell leads the blue-liners with 528,840 votes, second only to Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby's 747,332 in the Eastern Conference voting. Miller (473,228) retained the top spot among goalies with a lead of more than 40,000 over New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (431,046).
Briere has the third and final forward starting spot, and his biggest challenge in the final week of voting will come from across the dressing room. Briere has 413,286 votes, while fourth-place forward Maxim Afinogenov has 408,509 -- only 4,777 votes separate the teammates. Ovechkin is second with 427,654, while Sabres co-captain Chris Drury is seventh at 284,303.

Voting can be done only online at NHL.com. The All-Star Game will be Jan. 24 in Dallas.

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Andrew Peters had a barn burner of a battle with longtime fighter Donald Brashear. The Caps' big man started with a flurry of jabs, but Peters responded with two roundhouse rights that rocked Brashear and sent his helmet flying. Both players skated to the penalty box with their teammates banging their sticks on the ice in approval.
"Brashear is one of the strongest guys in the league, so that wasn't an easy bout," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I thought Andrew did a good job playing-wise and in the scrap."

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It's a tough time to be a defenseman in Washington. The Capitals were without flu-stricken Shaone Morrisonn plus Bryan Muir and John Erskine, who each have a broken foot. That forced them to use rookies Lawrence Nycholat and Jeff Schultz, who have a combined 14 NHL games, including Tuesday.

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Defenseman Nathan Paetsch was Buffalo's lone healthy scratch.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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