RALEIGH — Alex Ovechkin had been on the ice for over a minute and a half when Martin Erat blocked a shot and then knocked the puck into the neutral zone. Nicklas Backstrom corralled it there and, like the center has so many times before, sent it up to Ovechkin.
Washington’s star winger and franchise player used his last burst of energy to out-skate Carolina’s Eric Staal and fire into the empty net with 24.5 seconds remaining Friday night to record his 400th career goal.
It wasn’t a jaw-dropping tally or a clutch come-from-behind goal, but by scoring here Friday night, Ovechkin became sixth fastest to do reach the 400-goal mark. Eighty-eight players had reached the mark before him.
“Empty netter or whatever I take it. I kind of play little bit longer shift at the end and of course you think about it. You talk to the guys, your friends, teammates,” Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin accomplished the feat in 634 games, passing Pavel Bure (635) to be the sixth-fastest to the achievement. Only Wayne Gretzky (436), Mike Bossy (506), Mario Lemieux (508), Brett Hull (520) and Jari Kurri (608) did so in fewer games.
“It’s big number and being in this kind of company it’s a tremendous honor for me. I never felt like I’m going to be in this position when I start playing in NHL, of course I wanted to be but thanks to everybody my coaches, my partners. Without them I can’t reach these numbers.”
Consider for a moment that two years ago at this time many around the NHL wondered if hockey had seen the best of Ovechkin, if the dynamic scoring machine would find his offensive rhythm again.
Dating back to the start of the shortened 2012-13 season when Coach Adam Oates first moved him to right wing, Ovechkin has recorded 61 goals in his past 81 regular season games rocketing toward this landmark. He’s also fully established himself as one of, if not the most, the most potent goal scorers in the league.
So is his next step trying to score 50 goals in his first 50 games this season? He has 29 in 33.
“It’s pretty hard,” Ovechkin said with a smile. “Next step play New Jersey.”