Ovechkin becomes 8th to reach 700-goal club

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Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin became the eighth player in NHL history to reach 700 goals, scoring in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

The Russian winger now takes up residence in one of the most exclusive clubs in NHL history, joining Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito and Mike Gartner.

“It’s a special moment,” Ovechkin said. “When you get closer you start thinking when it’s going to happen. Finally, it’s over so we don’t have to talk about it anymore. We’re going to move on.”

Ovechkin, 34, reached the milestone 4:50 into the third period against the Devils, firing a slap shot from the right circle that went in off the left post. It was his 42nd goal of the season and tied the score 2-2. The Devils won 3-2 in regulation.

Capitals players rushed onto the ice to congratulate their teammate, who drew a strong ovation from the crowd.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the 126th game-tying goal of Ovechkin’s career, which is third-most in NHL history behind Dave Andreychuk (137) and Joe Sakic (132).

“It was obviously a matter of time, but that was a huge goal for us at the time,” Capitals coach Todd Rierden said. “Amazing to be able to watch it live and in person. To be able to go through the last six years with [Ovechkin] has been amazing to watch. Certainly a superstar in my time, the best goal-scorer that I’ve ever seen.”

On his way to 700, Ovechkin orchestrated a run that was lofty even for his standards, scoring 16 goals in a 10-game run stretching from Jan. 7 to Feb. 4, landing him on 698. Included in that stretch were three hat tricks.

It took six more games to get to 699, which came Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens. No. 700 was only one game and two days after that.

“I knew even if I didn’t score today, we still have 20 games, so one goal I would score,” Ovechkin said. “It’s pretty good company. I am happy to be there.”

Ovechkin is the second-youngest player to reach the milestone, behind only Gretzky, who was 29 when he reached it in 1991. He also trailed only Gretzky in the number of games it took to get there — 1,143 games compared with Gretzky’s 886.

“It’s always special to be in that category but I would say without my team, without my family, without the fans, the support that I have I would never reach that milestone,” Ovechkin said. “We have to continue to create history.”

As buzz began to build for the milestone starting with the turn of the calendar year, Ovechkin was asked time and again about what it means to him. Typically mild-mannered in front of the microphone, Ovechkin often responded generically.

“I’m still playing,” Ovechkin said earlier this month. “But after the year, yeah, I’m pretty sure me and my family and my friends are going to talk about it.”

Though he’s clearly honored to be with that group, he didn’t want to spend much time reveling in it, not with Washington trying to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason and its second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

Washington lost its fourth straight Saturday and fell to 3-7-1 in its past 11 games to remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the Metropolitan Division at 80 points — the Penguins have an edge with a game in hand. Washington hosts Pittsburgh, which lost 5-2 at home to Buffalo, on Sunday.

“Obviously we’re a little struggling right now, a little tight in our shoulders,” Ovechkin said Saturday. “We have to fight through this and everything is going to be OK.”

Even beyond 700, Ovechkin’s numbers continue to be headline-grabbing. Due in part to that 10-game stretch, he now has 27 career hat tricks and 11 40-goal seasons.

Ovechkin remains No. 8 on the all-time goals list but is closing in on Gartner (708), the former Capitals forward, at No. 7. Ovechkin passed Hall of Fame center Mark Messier for eighth place earlier this season.

Ovechkin is the first Russian player to reach 700 and the third Capital to make the list, joining Gartner and Jagr, though neither recorded that milestone tally in a Washington uniform.

The last player to reach No. 700 was Jagr, who did it on March 1, 2014, while with the Devils.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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