Alex Ovechkin reached a critical milestone Sunday night when he scored his 500th career goal. He is now the only Russian-born player to be part of the 500-goal club, an elite group with only 43 members.
It was a memorable moment in the Verizon Center when Ovechkin scored 16:19 into the second period. His teammates cleared the bench to come out and celebrate with him, something practically unheard of in a regular-season game. Some fans even threw hats onto the ice to celebrate the occasion. Ovechkin got an extended standing ovation and saluted the crowd with a quick skate around the rink. It just goes to show how significant this milestone truly is. The Capitals later showed a tribute video honoring Ovechkin and all of his accomplishments.
“It was a special moment, in front of fans, in front of teammates, my parents. It’s huge,” Ovechkin said in his press conference following the game. “Every day, every game [the fans] support us, they support me, and you know, they deserve to be in this moment, and as I said it’s nice to be in that spot, and it’s a [historical] moment,” he said.
Ovechkin also explained that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates.
“It is really hard to score in this league right now, system-wise. … If you get to 30 goals, 35 goals, you’re lucky. Without my teammates’ help, without the system, how we play, it’s very hard to do.”
Those same teammates were thrilled for Ovechkin.
“It’s just an amazing feeling for him, obviously,” long-time linemate Nicklas Backstrom said in his post-game locker room interview. “As a player, sitting on the bench, I got goosebumps. It was a special feeling. He’s gonna remember this for a while, I hope. … That came up naturally for us to jump in and celebrate with him. It’s a big moment for him and for the city of Washington,” Backstrom said.
Even a new face in the Capitals locker room was impressed by the milestone.
“It’s a celebration of a great career that’s still got a lot of years left,” Capitals forward Justin Williams said following the game. “I’m glad I was able to be a part of it this year. I know he wants to write a little more history, but so far it’s pretty impressive.”
In his post-game press conference, head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that it was “fitting” for Ovechkin to score his 500th goal at home, and that it was a great way for the team to celebrate with Ovechkin.
“We always talk about ‘team,’ Trotz said. “This is actually an individual award, or achievement. … But I think when one person has success, it reflects on everybody, and Ovi couldn’t do it alone. He could look over to Backstrom a lot … but I think that was a moment that was great [for] the team to share because it takes a village to have success, if you will. … I think we all shared that moment, and that was great.”
Listen to Capitals radio announcer John Walton’s dramatic call of Ovechkin’s 500th goal.
Ovechkin later decided that 500 goals wasn’t enough. Taking a pass from Backstrom, who has now assisted on 182 of Ovechkin’s goals, Ovechkin made a beautiful move around Erik Karlsson and potted his 501st career goal, his 26th of the season. This was the seventh goal of the Capitals’ 7-1 blowout against Ottawa.
Ovechkin has had an incredible career since getting drafted first overall in the 2004 draft. He has more than 200 more goals than anyone else in his draft class; the only player who is close is Evgeni Malkin, who has 287 career goals.
In fact, Ovechkin is one of the best goal scorers of all time. He reached the 500 mark in the fifth fewest games in NHL history (801), behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull, all of whom played in a different era. This article breaks down the numbers nicely, and Talk Hockey compared Ovechkin’s numbers with Gretzky’s numbers through 800 games. He has scored more goals than any player since he entered the league in 2005. Ovechkin also surpassed Sergei Fedorov earlier this season when he scored his 484th career goal and now holds the all-time record for most goals scored in the NHL by a Russian-born player.
Ovechkin has set record after record, earned trophy after trophy and has even become a much more complete, all-around and versatile player over the past few seasons. He is a three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner as league MVP, a three-time Ted Lindsay Award winner as league MVP as judged by the players, a five-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard winner as the league-leading goal scorer, and the winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and the Art Ross Trophy as the league leader in points.
But the one thing he has not done yet is the one thing that matters most to him: to win a Stanley Cup.
After the Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in overtime of game seven in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Capitals management came out and publicly admitted that the franchise owes Ovechkin a Cup. The organization followed up those comments with a great offseason, acquiring several pieces to make the team more durable and better suited for a deep playoff run. After all, Ovechkin has never reached the Conference Finals round in his illustrious career.
The Caps are currently the best team in the league but aren’t even playing to the team’s full potential. It has been impressive to see this team win game after game even with injuries to multiple key players. But the team remains focused on working towards what really matters. This is a huge milestone for Ovechkin and for the Capitals, but there is much more work to be done.
Featured Image via capitals.nhl.com