Ovechkin one goal from tying Howe for 2nd in NHL history

WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin knows he can catch Gordie Howe for second on the NHL goals list with 801 when the Washington Capitals host the Dallas Stars at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, BSSW, ESPN+, SN NOW).
 

But the 37-year-old left wing wasn’t making any promises Thursday morning.

“You never know what’s going to happen, right?” Ovechkin said. “I just have to go out there and play the game as hard as I can and if this happens, it’s great. If not, we’re going to work and try to make it happen.”

Ovechkin became the third NHL player to score 800 goals when he had his 29th hat trick during the Capitals’ 7-3 victory at the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. But that was only the first of what promises to be a historic three-act play.

Video: WSH@CHI: Ovechkin nets historic hat trick in 7-3 win

With his next goal, Ovechkin will tie Howe for second with 801.The one after that will move him past How and leave only Wayne Gretzky ahead of him with 894.

Ovechkin said he’s trying to stay in the moment, though.

“Guys, let’s not jump too far,” he said.

Ovechkin has scored what feels like countless milestone goals during his 18 NHL seasons, climbing steadily through the most-notable big numbers — 500, 600, 700 and now, 800 — and past most of the biggest names to play the game.

But he understands these next two goals will be his most significant to date.

It’s not every day you get to pass Howe, who played 26 seasons in the NHL — 25 with the Detroit Red Wings and one with the Hartford Whalers — and scored his final goal in 1980 when he was 52 years old.

“I think it’s going to be a great memory for my wife, my kids,” Ovechkin said last week. “Obviously, my mom and dad are going to watch at home, my brother, too. It’s great for the game. The fans, I think, are going to love it. I’m pretty sure lots of guys are going to appreciate it. It’s a nice accomplishment.”

Ovechkin appears in a hurry to race past Howe, who died in 2016 at the age of 88, and get on with chasing Gretzky’s record. He has seven goals during a four-game goal streak to reach 20 in 31 games this season, putting him on pace to finish with 52.

It would be his 10th 50-goal season and break the NHL record of nine he shares with Gretzky and Mike Bossy after scoring 50 last season.

Ovechkin started fast against the Blackhawks, scoring on two of his first three shifts, including the first 24 goal seconds into the game to get to 799. After that, it didn’t seem to be a question of if he would get his 800th on Tuesday, but if he’d score 801 and 802 too, or save them for another day.

Ovechkin’s 800th came off a scramble in front of the Blackhawks net at 6:34 of the third period and produced an eruption of energy and emotion from Ovechkin, the Capitals and the United Center crowd, which acknowledged his achievement with a standing ovation and chants of “Ovi! Ovi!” Center Jonathan Toews and forward Patrick Kane were among the Blackhawks players to congratulate Ovechkin after the game.

Toews recalled before the game watching Gretzky score his 802nd NHL goal with the Los Angeles Kings against the Vancouver Canucks on March 23, 1994, to pass Howe, and marveled how Ovechkin is on the verge of doing the same more than 28 years later.

Watch: Memories: Wayne Gretzky scores his 802nd career goal

“I was obsessed with Wayne Gretzky when I was a young kid,” Toews said, “and I remember him scoring that goal when he was jumping around on his skates and the whole world just couldn’t believe Wayne Gretzky passed Gordie Howe.

“Now Alex is about to do that, too. So it’s kind of interesting to think of that memory for myself and to think that’s the level he’s at right now is pretty incredible.”

The atmosphere is likely be even more electric Thursday with the Capitals home crowd eager to see history. Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, and his sons Ilya, 2, and Sergei, 4, will be in attendance after watching the game in Chicago on television. Ovechkin said Sergei saw the first two goals but fell asleep before he scored the third one to reach 800.

“Actually, my son (Sergei) asked me today, ‘Dad, how do you score three goals against Chicago?’

To Ovechkin, the answer was simple: “This is my job.”

After dealing with a host of injuries, the Capitals (15-12-4) have rebounded to win five in a row, their longest streak this season. Ovechkin has nine points (seven goals, two assists) in his past four games and has shown no signs of his pursuit of 800 goals and Howe weighing on him mentally.

“He’s just going about his business like he always does,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s focused on playing well tonight. Inside of that is going to become the opportunity to shoot the puck and we’ll see what happens. It’s not something that comes up, we got a big game, we got to keep things moving and chase a playoff spot. Just by who he is and how he plays the game and his ability, there’s a chance on any night it can happen.”

Still, Ovechkin acknowledged after scoring his 800th, he felt, “as soon as it happens, kind of relief, kind of happiness and enjoyment.” So maybe moving past Howe with his 802nd goal will produce similar emotions, but don’t expect any satisfaction.

He’ll still be 92 goals behind Gretzky.

“I think once he’s going to be No. 1, he can have a sense of relief,” said forwaard Anthony Mantha, who had the primary assist on Ovechkin’s 800th. “Until then, he’s on the hunt. And that’s what we love about him.”

[RELATED: Alex Ovechkin joins 800-goal club]

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