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Alex Ovechkin scores 800th NHL goal, stands one behind Gordie Howe

Capitals 7, Blackhawks 3

Alex Ovechkin, right, celebrates his 800th career goal Tuesday night. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
6 min

CHICAGO — As Alex Ovechkin entered the Washington Capitals’ dressing room Tuesday night, a big grin on the captain’s face, his teammates were waiting — with cans and cans of beer.

In a flash, Ovechkin was doused from every angle as the cheers and gleeful shouts from the rowdy group got louder and louder before Ovechkin gave an emotional speech. It was a fitting celebration of a milestone night, when the Russian star recorded a hat trick to notch the 800th goal of his remarkable career.

“It is a big number,” he said. “The best company ever can imagine since you start playing hockey to be in that category — 800.”

Ovechkin’s first hat trick of the season powered the Capitals’ 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He became the third NHL player to reach 800 goals, and surpassing another hockey icon is imminent. Ovechkin, 37, is one goal shy of tying Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list. And he’s 95 from overtaking Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894.

Ovechkin’s landmark goal came at 6:34 of the third period. Anthony Mantha and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the assists on the goal, which gave Washington a 5-2 lead.

The goal came right in front after Ovechkin collected a feed from Mantha and beat Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek. Kuznetsov initially had possession and was looking to pass to Mantha, but he said he fumbled the puck a bit, leading it to pop up into the air. Mantha had a split-second to shoot or pass, and the forward opted for the latter.

“I saw someone coming backdoor with a right-handed stick and you don’t assume it’s Ovi, just because we’re not playing together, but it was right after the [line] change and he ended up putting it in the back of the net,” Mantha said.

Hats rained down on the United Center ice and the Capitals’ bench quickly cleared to congratulate their captain in a gleeful dogpile. Chants of “Ovi! Ovi! Ovi!” engulfed what had been a quiet arena moments earlier.

“I feel like when he got the first goal today I was like, ‘Ah, this is the night,’ ” Kuznetsov said.

Ovechkin scored his first goal just 24 seconds into the game, when he converted from the left circle. His second tally was a power-play goal at 8:14 of the first. Ovechkin jammed in the puck at the left post and, suddenly, the milestone was in reach.

“It doesn’t matter if you get two,” he said. “... It stick to your mind right away that you have to find one more [goal] to just move on, just pass it and move on. As soon as [the 800th goal] happened, kind of relief, kind of happiness in general.”

Ovechkin has seven goals in his past four games as the Capitals have surged back into the playoff picture with five straight wins. In all, he has 20 goals in 31 games, putting him on pace for 53. His team struggled to start the season, but the Capitals’ captain is showing no signs of slowing down.

“It is pretty amazing,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “When you see it from a different bench, you focus on figuring out how to stop [Ovechkin] and how to keep him in check. And when you coach him, you see his love of the game, his durability and his want and desire to make a difference.”

From 2020: Ovechkin at 700 goals (and counting)

Ovechkin can now set his sights on catching — and passing — Howe. Washington’s next game is Thursday against Dallas at Capital One Arena, where the Capitals hope an energetic home crowd will help keep their recent surge going.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Nic Dowd, Mantha and Dmitry Orlov also scored for Washington, and Charlie Lindgren made 26 saves. Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Toews and Max Domi scored for Chicago; Mrazek had 23 saves.

Ovechkin has remained even-keeled as his goals chase heats up, a notable trait of his since he entered the NHL as a curious, fearless 20-year-old in 2005. In those days, he simply wanted to play the sport he loved.

“Back then, I just want to play. I don’t want to think about the numbers,” he said. “I just want to have fun and enjoy my life in the NHL.”

Current and former players have gushed about Ovechkin’s desire and passion for hockey, with former Capitals teammate Brian Sutherby calling Ovechkin’s confidence and swagger as a young NHLer “infectious.”

“He is the most passionate hockey player I have ever played with,” Sutherby said. “He wanted to win more than anyone I ever played with. … There were many nights in that first year that you are sitting on the bench and you know that you are watching something ridiculous and something that most players can’t do — and you knew this kid was going to go on and be a Hall of Famer.”

As he neared his latest milestone, Ovechkin has been saving pucks, sticks, jerseys and gloves from each goal he scores. He stores them in the basement of his Virginia home — which is starting to get very crowded. Ovechkin said his wife, Nastya, is ready for some of that memorabilia to find a new home.

“She don’t like it,” he said. “Every time I have gloves and helmets, she is like, ‘When are you going to get rid of it?’ I go, ‘We will see.’ ”

Alex Ovechkin’s 50th goals through the years

As Ovechkin chases down Howe and then takes aim at Gretzky, each goal brings new memories and milestones as he leaves his teammates, opponents and hockey fans in awe.

“You can’t buy those moments,” Kuznetsov said. “That is the memories.”

Notes: Center Lars Eller did not play after he left Tuesday’s morning skate early. Washington announced before the game that he was day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Nicolas Aube-Kubel entered the lineup in his place. ... Defenseman Erik Gustafsson returned to the lineup, replacing Lucas Johansen, after he missed Sunday’s win at Winnipeg with an upper-body injury. ... Washington’s five-game winning streak is its longest since it won seven straight in March 2021.