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Ovechkin scores 40th for Capitals in Stadium Series, eyes more

Forward two shy of 600 goals for NHL career

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Alex Ovechkin is always thinking big, so it was no surprise that reaching the 40-goal mark again on Saturday wasn't enough for the Washington Capitals captain.

"Forty is nice, but 50 is better," Ovechkin said.

 

[RELATED: Stadium Series 'experience of a lifetime' for Capitals, Maple LeafsComplete NHL Stadium Series coverage]

 

Ovechkin's chase for 600 career goals was one of the big storylines heading into the Capitals 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Although he has 20 career hat tricks, including three this season, Ovechkin knew it would be difficult to get the three goals he needed to reach that milestone.

He turned out to be right, but he reached another significant milestone by scoring 40 goals for the ninth time in 13 seasons. The 32-year-old left wing is the sixth player in NHL history to score 40 or more goals in at least nine seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky (12), Marcel Dionne (10), Mario Lemieux (10), Mike Bossy (9) and Mike Gartner (9).

"My linemates, my teammates, do great job to find me over there," Ovechkin said. "I just have to do my job to put the puck in."

Ovechkin's goal gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead at 6:19 of the first period, just 59 seconds after the Maple Leafs tied the score 1-1. After working the puck down low with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, Ovechkin curled out front and found himself open, receiving a pass from Wilson behind the net and shooting past Frederik Andersen's glove.

It was his sixth goal in the past seven games and eighth in the past 11.

"It's kind of my job to get him the puck," Wilson said. "So when I see he's open, I try to deliver it to him and he does the rest."

Video: Alex Ovechkin talks after the game in Annapolis

There was plenty of time left for Ovechkin to get the two goals he needs to reach 600, but he remained stuck on 598, for now. He had a good scoring chance with a wrist shot from the high slot off a rush with 1:02 remaining in the second period, but Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who replaced Andersen earlier in the period, made a blocker save.

The Capitals were already leading 5-2 at that point. 

"Though it would have been a perfect story for him to get the hat trick," Wilson said. "We'll take five [goals] from the team instead."

Ovechkin was happy to get the win; the Capitals moved two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

"We need the points," he said. "We need to collect the points. It doesn't matter if it's two or one. We have to count the points and move forward. Obviously, tonight was a huge one and we'll take it and move forward."

Ovechkin will continue his chase for 600 when the Capitals visit the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV). He's looking to become the fourth player in League history to score 600 goals in fewer than 1,000 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau, joining Gretzky (718), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900).

Ovechkin has played in a Capitals record 986 games and is on pace to reach the 1,000-game milestone at the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 1.

Video: TOR@WSH: Ovechkin nets 40th goal of season in front

He said Friday that another 50-goal season would mean more to him than 600 career goals, "But if I want to score 50, I have to pass 600."

With 40 goals in 65 games, he needs 10 in the Capitals final 17 games to get 50 for the for the eighth time. Only Gretzky and Bossy have more 50-goal seasons with nine. No one else in League history has more than six.

"I still have time to do that," Ovechkin said. "But you have to focus, and you have to keep playing and use your chances and it will come."

When Ovechkin dipped to 33 goals last season - his lowest total in a full season since 2010-11 - there were some questions about whether his days as an elite goal-scorer were over. He's answered them resoundingly this season.

Now, he has a chance to become the fifth player to score 50 or more goals in a season after his 32nd birthday and the first since Jaromir Jagr (34) in 2005-06, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He also can become the oldest player to lead the League in goals (based on age on the final day of the season) since Phil Esposito in 1974-75, who was 33.

Ovechkin has led the League in goals six times and appears destined to do it again.

"I don't think you can be surprised by anything he does or surpasses or any type of way he scores goals, because it feels like he's done it every way, and he does it every way consistently," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. "For him to get 40 again, for how consistently he scores goals year in and year out and game in and game out, there's just no other guy that I've seen like him."

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