Company in 60-Goal Club

Dennis Maruk noted that Alex Ovechkin (8) has a key scoring weapon: setups from center Nicklas Backstrom (19).
Dennis Maruk noted that Alex Ovechkin (8) has a key scoring weapon: setups from center Nicklas Backstrom (19). (By John Amis -- Associated Press)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dennis Maruk had known for some time that it was a matter of when, not if, Alex Ovechkin would score 60 goals and equal his Washington Capitals franchise record for most goals in a season.

But Maruk didn't know Ovechkin had pulled even with him until yesterday afternoon, when he returned a phone message from a reporter. Maruk, 52, had held the record since the 1981-82 season.

"I knew Alex was at 58 goals, so I knew he was close," Maruk said en route to a ski resort near his Aspen, Colo., home. "But I hadn't looked at box scores yet. I probably would have found out later when I opened the paper."

Ovechkin scored goals Nos. 59 and 60, and assisted on two others, to help the Capitals rally late in the third period for a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday, keeping their playoff hopes alive. The 22-year-old Russian also became 19th player in league history to score 60 goals in a season, and the first since Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.

"I realize now it's something huge," Ovechkin said at Verizon Center, where he was attending the NCAA men's basketball tournament. "Sixty is a big number. I'm happy."

"There was pressure [to get to] 50, not 60."

One might assume that Maruk is disappointed now that he must share -- and soon could lose -- the record he owned for so long. But that's not the case. Maruk has become a big fan of Ovechkin's.

"Sad? No, not at all," Maruk said. "Records are meant to be broken. It's been a long time. I thought Peter Bondra was going to do it. He didn't, but I knew someone was going to come along and do it."

"He's a great hockey player," Maruk added, referring to Ovechkin. "I've watched him a lot, and I've been following him. I've also been cheering him on. I want him to make the playoffs."

Ovechkin can break Maruk's mark when the Capitals resume their playoff push Tuesday against the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.

Maruk played 15 NHL seasons for four teams, including a five-year stint in Washington. He scored 50 goals for the Capitals in 1980-81, and then topped that with 60 the following year while playing on a line with Ryan Walter and Chris Valentine. But his achievement that season was overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky, whose 92 goals stands as the all-time record.

"That year, I went a bunch of games without scoring," Maruk said with a chuckle. "I probably could have had a bunch more."

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