The milestone goal came on an uncontested shot into an empty net with 24 seconds remaining, sealing the Washington Capitals' 4-2 win Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. It may not have had the flair Ovechkin imagined in reaching the 400-goal mark, but he wasn't about to complain.
"I had chances to score a couple really good ones," Ovechkin said. "Maybe I tried to make more moves than I usually do, but an empty-netter is an empty-netter."
Ovechkin leads the NHL with 29 goals. His 400th goal came in his 634th regular-season game, making him the sixth-fastest in League history to reach the mark.
“Of course you think about it. You talk to the guys, your friends and teammates, it’s kind of a big number,” he said.
Washington coach Adam Oates, who scored 1,420 points in his 19-year career, counts Ovechkin among the very best offensive players he has ever encountered.
"There's really only one guy I played with or saw that had some of the skills he does, and that was Brett Hull, in terms of shooting from anywhere and being able to score from anywhere," Oates said. "But he adds a dimension with his physicality. He's a huge man out there, and opponents have to be so leery of him."
Ovechkin provided the finishing touch to a game that featured three Washington power-play goals in the second period and a half-dozen outstanding saves by goaltender Philipp Grubauer, playing in his sixth game this season and the eighth of his career.
"It was good. It got me into the game," Grubauer said. "We were a little flat coming out in the first. But [when we have] breakdowns, I'm supposed to make the save. That's my job."
He did the job often against Carolina. Grubauer robbed Nathan Gerbe on a big blast from the slot in the second, and he stopped a breakaway bid from Eric Staal in the third that would have tied the game. In all, he made 39 saves to run his record to 4-0-1. His efforts didn't go unnoticed by his teammates.
"Especially in the first period, that breakaway and a few other point-blank chances," said Troy Brouwer, who had a goal and an assist. "He's gained our confidence, absolutely, in the last few weeks he's been here. Ultimately, he gave us a chance to win tonight."
But the Capitals’ power play owned the second period. With Eric Staal's high-sticking penalty carrying over from the first period, Marcus Johansson pounded home the rebound of Nicklas Backstrom's shot 41 seconds into the period to get the Capitals even. Backstrom assisted on all four Washington goals.
But the Capitals went in front to stay with their third straight power-play goal. Mike Green broke his stick on a shot from inside the blue line, but Brouwer got a piece of the puck on the way through the slot and tipped it past Ward at 14:11.
"When it comes slower, I obviously get a better touch on it," Brouwer said. "I had my stick halfway up my body thinking it was going to be a high shot because that's where he likes to shoot. It's almost a weird adjustment you don't ever have to practice, putting your stick down on the ice for a broken stick."
The goal stood up as the game-winner for the second-place Capitals (19-13-3), who are five points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers and six ahead of Carolina (14-14-7) in the Metropolitan Division.
"The three power-play goals is obviously very big all in one period," Oates said. "We did some good things to earn the power plays. That can't get overlooked. We had the zone time to earn the power plays."
The NHL's second-ranked man-advantage unit also got the attention of Carolina coach Kirk Muller.
"They have a potent power play, and obviously it was a big difference tonight," Muller said. “They've been good all year, and we said we wanted to keep our discipline and stay out of the box. They made us pay for it. We had opportunities too, and we fell short of tying it up."
The win made Ovechkin's accomplishment shine a little brighter. Reaching the 400-goal mark is an impressive feat, but he's on pace to reach to 500 in short order. He has 52 goals in his past 56 regular-season games.
"I didn't feel like I would be in this position when I started playing in the NHL," Ovechkin said. "Of course I wanted to be, but thanks goes to my coaches and [teammates]. Without them, I can't reach those numbers."