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Ovechkin in pursuit of Gretzky for NHL career goals record

Capitals forward says he's 'going to try' to get the 237 more he needs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin is warming to the idea of chasing down Wayne Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals.

With another 50-goal season already under his belt and an eighth Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leader in goals within his grasp, the Washington Capitals forward has 658 goals over 14 NHL seasons heading into the Capitals' penultimate game of the regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV).

That leaves him 237 away from breaking Gretzky's record.

"I have to be healthy. I have to be in good shape," Ovechkin said. "I'm going to try to do it, but you don't know what's going to happen in the future."

As recently as two seasons ago, the 33-year-old quickly dismissed any suggestions that he could catch Gretzky.

"I don't think that's possible," Ovechkin said in January 2017. "I talked to Wayne and I don't think those records can be beaten, ever."

Video: WSH@TBL: Ovechkin scores 50th goal for eighth time

Ovechkin appeared to be right when he dropped from 50 goals in 2015-16 to 33 in 2016-17. But after he scored 100 goals over the past two seasons, including a NHL-leading 51 this season, 894 no longer feels so far away.

Gretzky, who retired in 1999, is among those who believe Ovechkin has a shot.

"He's got a chance to do it," Gretzky said on NHL Network on March 19. "He's a good athlete, he plays in a great organization, he plays with good players, which you have to do, and there's no question he has a legitimate chance. Good for him. … If he does, I'll be the first guy to shake his hand. I think it's great for the game."

The biggest factor will probably be how long Ovechkin wants to play in the NHL. He has two more seasons remaining on his contract after this one and will only say, "We'll see," when asked how long he plans to continue.

Ovechkin's sturdy frame (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) has helped him remain healthy while delivering 2,829 hits since entering the League in 2005-06 (fourth most in the NHL). He's played fewer than 78 games in a full NHL season only once, when he played 72 in 2009-10.

And he continues to be productive; he's scored at least 50 goals in four of the past six seasons and had 49 last season. 

His eight 50-goal seasons leave him one behind Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most in NHL history.

Video: CAR@WSH: Ovechkin rips one-timer to tie Shanahan

"I always say he's going to score as many goals as he wants to for a grand total," said Bossy, an analyst for TVA Sports. "Whether he gets to 50 next year, there's not only talent, but a lot of luck that's involved also and you have to stay healthy. But with his durability, it's a matter of how many more years he wants to play and if he can continue playing with good centermen."

Ovechkin' focus at the moment is on closing out the regular season before the Capitals begin their quest to repeat as champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals can clinch first in the Metropolitan Division with a win against the Canadiens, and Ovechkin will look to pad his four-goal lead on Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy.

Ovechkin would be the first player to lead the NHL in goals eight times, surpassing Bobby Hull. The Moscow native led the League in goals in 2007-08 (65), 2008-09 (56), 2012-13 (32), 2013-14 (51), 2014-15 (53), 2015-16 (50) and 2017-18 (49).

Not taking anything for granted, Ovechkin isn't ready to discuss what another Richard Trophy would mean to him.

"Let's wait until the end of the year and then we'll talk," he said.

The No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Ovechkin (33 years and 201 days old when the regular season ends Saturday) would be the sixth player in NHL history to lead the League in goals at age 33 or older and the first since Phil Esposito in 1974-75 (33 years, 45 days). The others were Bill Cook in 1932-33 (36 years, 165 days), Gordie Howe in 1962-63 (34 years, 358 days), Nels Stewart in 1936-37 (34 years, 82 days) and Maurice Richard in 1954-55 (33 years, 228 days).

When Ovechkin and the Capitals visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Feb. 20, their trip included a stop in the D.K. Doc Seaman Hockey Resource Centre's famed Stick Storage Centre, which holds more than 4,000 sticks, the oldest dating to 1875. Ovechkin, an avid stick collector, was drawn to a wooden one with a flat blade that belonged to Richard. He wondered how the Canadiens legend could have scored 544 goals using such a stick.

Not shy, Ovechkin asked, "Can I have it?"

"I have a big collection, so it would be nice to have it," Ovechkin said. 

"They said, 'No.'"

Video: WSH@TBL: Ovechkin ties Robitalle with power-play goal

Ovechkin also still wants a signed, game-used Gretzky stick for his collection, and The Great One promised to give him one if he won the Stanley Cup. But Gretzky has yet to deliver on that promise after the Capitals won the Cup for the first time last season.

"I'm still waiting," Ovechkin said.

Maybe Ovechkin will have to break Gretzky's record to get the stick.

"I think if there's anyone that can catch him, it's him, and I think it's possible," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "I see it as if he just keeps going, it's realistic."

Still, scoring another 237 goals won't be easy.

"I don't think it's crazy," said Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has scored 390 goals over 11 NHL seasons. "It's going to be tough, but the longevity he's had in his career is pointing in his favor going forward. He's always going to have that shot. It's going to be tough, but I do think there's a chance for him to break it."  

Bryan Muir, Ovechkin's Capitals teammate during his first two NHL seasons, suggested earlier this season that Ovechkin might be aiming for 802 goals, which would surpass Howe's 801 for second most in League history. He needs 144 goals to get there.

"It's in his sights and it's attainable," Muir said.

Ovechkin did not deny 802 is on his radar.

"Yeah, but, again, it's a pretty big number," Ovechkin said. "You have to score 50 three times. It's pretty hard."

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