Alex Ovechkin overtakes Gordie Howe with 802nd goal to move up to 2nd all-time

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Alex Ovechkin took the next step in his quest for hockey history Friday night, scoring his 801st and 802nd career goals to overtake Gordie Howe for #2 on the NHL all-time list.

In the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena, the milestone goal was an empty net inside the blue line with 1:00 left. The home crowd erupted in a frenzy, then watched as the longtime captain celebrated in ebullience with his team-mates on the ice. The Russian star’s first goal of the night came from the onslaught of the circle towards the end of the first period.

“It’s very emotional,” Ovechkin said. “My parents watched it from home. My wife is here, children here, friends. It’s something special to do it with the home crowd. They give me full support, and that’s pretty big. It’s a historic moment. It’s nice to be in this category of players. It’s pretty cool.”

The only name above Ovechkin’s is now that of “The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals, once considered unattainable, are at the top of the mountain. And given that 37-year-old Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace has barely slacked with age, it’s probably a question of when – not if – No. 8 will overtake the legendary No. 99.

“It’s just crazy to see and it’s a huge number and it’s a great achievement for his game, for him as a person and also for his family,” said longtime Capitals team-mate Dmitry Orlov. “The way he’s going now sure is great and you hope he stays healthy – and another day, another milestone.”

Ovechkin’s no-look goal with an empty net came across as a bit comedic. The home crowd chanted Ovechkin’s name after the Jets pulled off goalie David Rittich with just under three minutes left. The crowd braced for Capitals coach Peter Laviolette to get Ovechkin on the ice for an empty net try – and chants only grew louder as the clock ticked down.

Ovechkin came on the ice 1:42 into the game and had a long shot attempt at an empty net that hit the post and went wide. Moments later, with the Capitals in the offensive zone and the open net in front of him, Ovechkin passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who quickly decided he didn’t want to shoot and handed it back to Ovechkin instead.

Laviolette said afterwards that he and Ovechkin had a talk before the game and decided to give Ovechkin normal minutes if an opportunity to open the net arose.

“It’s the kind of situation where you take the opportunity when you can take it,” Ovechkin said. “I give it to Kuzy and he says, ‘I don’t want to take it.’ But after that it’s special.”

Kuznetsov said: “I’ll probably feel bad if I score over there and half the world will probably be so mad at me. You know, I got a lot of haters… reputation, whatever.”

Howe died in 2016 at the age of 88. Ovechkin met him at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal. A signed photo of Ovechkin and Howe together in the dressing room remains Ovechkin’s “top thing” in his collection, he said.

“Obviously, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky’s racquet, Mario Lemieux’s racquet – [the photo is] probably the top one,” he said.

For numbers 801 and 802, Ovechkin’s wife Nastya and two sons, Sergei, 4, and Ilya, 2, were present. All were present at Washington’s last three home games when Ovechkin had his chances to catch Howe but couldn’t light the lamp.

On Friday, Ovechkin made sure he put on a show with all eyes on him. Sergei and Ilya both went into the Capitals’ locker room after the game and posed for photos while holding up their father’s historic #801 and #802 pucks.

“You never thought it was going to happen when you got into the league, you’re going to break any Gordie Howe record or Wayne Gretzky record or any record,” Ovechkin said. “You thought, okay, maybe you play in the NHL, you’re going to be good and try to do your best – but the whole situation that’s happening right now is a miracle. You know, it’s pretty special.”

Ovechkin’s first goal on Friday equaled Howe’s record 18-22 in the first half to give Washington a 1-0 lead. His palm shot from the circle went past Rittich, the 166th goalie Ovechkin has struck in his remarkable career.

Then the chase continued for a second.

“When you see what Alex does on a daily basis, I think anything is possible,” said Laviolette. “How he plays. How he scores. How he shoots the puck. His love of the game. His passion and goal for the game. Everything is possible.”

Ovechkin has scored nine goals in his last nine games. For the season, he has 22 goals in 36 games — a 50-goal pace. The Capitals have struggled to start the year but the captain has helped his injury-plagued team stay afloat.

“He’s back on track for another great year,” said Laviolette. “He’s in great shape. He obviously has tremendous ability and talent when it comes to doing what he does. He loves the game. He has a passion and a purpose when he takes the ice cream. I think all those things together and the fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of games helps him play consistently.”

Team-mates have long praised Ovechkin’s skills, but as he ticked off one legend after another during his march up the goals list, the appreciation reached a new level.

“Seven or eight years ago nobody was talking about it, although it was clearly on the same path as it is now,” defense attorney John Carlson said this month. “It went from ‘Maybe, kinda’ to ‘Holy shit, that’s coming pretty soon.’ … You can play with a guy who beat those guys in the history books for 13 years and it’s pretty cool stuff.

With No. 802 behind him, Ovechkin can catch his breath. But expectations don’t stop at #2.

“Everyone is waiting for the Gretzky record and it won’t be easy,” said Orlov. “Everyone knows it, and so does he. It’s a lot of work and sometimes luck. It is a long way.”

Forward Anthony Mantha added: “I think once he’s number one he can be relieved. Until then, he’s on the hunt – and that’s what we love about him.”

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