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These hits keep pushing Ovie over the borderline

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has put together quite the highlight reel during his five seasons in the NHL. There was this crazy goal a few years back. And this beauty last year. Heck, most NHL players wish they could score a goal like the one the league's leading scorer buried last week against Dallas, but for Ovechkin's standards, it was pretty, well, standard.

But over the past year, Ovechkin has started to compile a less flattering highlight reel — one that has caused fans, players and the NHL's head disciplinarian Colin Campbell to cringe, instead of opposing goaltenders. This season, a trio of borderline hits, described by some as "reckless" and "dirty," has led to Ovechkin getting tossed from three games.

The latest happened yesterday when Ovechkin sent Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell face first into the boards — and reportedly to the injured reserve for the rest of the season with a broken clavicle and broken ribs. Here's the video of Ovechkin's dangerous hit from behind. The first replay (shot from a wide angle) doesn't look so bad. But check out the second replay 40 seconds in. He sees that Campbell is prone, but gives him a hard shove to the back anyway. I have played hockey my whole life, and watching Campbell crash into the boards made my neck and torso hurt, too.

But was the hit dirty, and was there malicious intent there? I’m sure Brian Campbell probably thinks so, but that’s up for Colin Campbell to decide.

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I expect Ovechkin to be suspended for a few games for the hit, even though it didn’t seem like he meant to hurt Brian Campbell (and Ovechkin looked legitimately concerned for Campbell as the league’s highest-paid defenseman writhed in pain on the ice behind the Chicago net). The fact that the Blackhawks, a serious Stanley Cup contender, will lose Campbell for an extended period of time will probably factor into the length of the suspension, if there is one.

(UPDATE: Ovechkin has been suspended two games by the NHL.)

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Then again, when Penguins winger (and former Capital) Matt Cooke avoids a suspension for

shot last week, it’s hard to tell what Colin Campbell deems a suspendable offense.

When looking at Sunday’s hit in a vacuum, it’s hard for me to call Ovechkin reckless and dirty. But considering how he has been racking up these borderline — but dangerous — hits, I can see why he’s starting to get that reputation around the league. Hitting defenseless players from behind along the boards, like he did to Campbell, and knee-to-knee hits, like

in November and

in last year’s playoffs, are two cardinal sins in the NHL’s unspoken “code.” Outside of pulling a Todd Bertuzzi or wielding a hockey stick like a samurai sword “Youngblood” style, there’s nothing more dangerous in hockey.

I enjoy the way Ovechkin plays the game and I appreciate how he likes to make an impact without the puck by delivering these big hits, but he’s straddling the line of dirty play. If he keeps it up, he is eventually going to go offsides. And then it will be the Capitals who will lose a star player for an extended period of time.

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