Sticks slapped the ice and then Nicklas Backstrom provided Alex Ovechkin one last nudge, pushing him up off his seat on the Washington Capitals bench to stand and soak in the ovation. Justin Williams asked the referees to let the Capitals have a few minutes before play resumed: A 1,000th career point was worth an extra-special celebration.
“He was sitting down on the bench and I just pushed him up,” Backstrom said after the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. “He should be honored like that if you reach 1,000 in the amount of games he has. It’s pretty impressive. All the credit to him. He’s an unreal player and he’s been fun to watch.”
Entering Wednesday night with 999 career points, Ovechkin knew the spotlight was on him. And, of course, he shined anyway. On his first shift, he streaked down the right side of the ice and then cut to the middle, maneuvering the puck into the slot before his wrist shot whizzed past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with just 35 seconds elapsed.
“It took him long enough is what we were thinking,” Williams cracked. “I just shook my head. I’m not shocked about anything he does. It was awesome to get it over with.”
Ovechkin has never been one to shy away from moments like these, and his teammates encouraged him to bask in it, smacking their sticks on the nearest surface and then literally forcing him up. He saluted a Verizon Center crowd that was simultaneously thanking him. By scoring his 1,000th point in his 880th game, Ovechkin is the second-fastest active player to reach the milestone, behind just Jaromir Jagr.
“I kind of think about it before the game,” Ovechkin said. “Everybody’s here and it will be nice to get 1,000th point at home. Pretty excited that it happened. It’s a big moment for organization, for myself and the fans.”
Scoring a 1,000th career point with a secondary assist wouldn’t be Ovechkin-like. A flashy goal is more befitting a career that’s been a series of highlights. He added another one from his power-play sweet spot, ratcheting his point total up to 1,001. His two goals helped extend Washington’s win streak to seven games.
The win moved the Capitals (27-9-5; 59 points) past Pittsburgh for sole possession of second place in what is becoming a heated Metropolitan Division race, just one point back of the Columbus Blue Jackets and two points ahead of the Penguins and New York Rangers.
Goaltender Braden Holtby continued his dominant week, shutting the Penguins out for two-plus periods before power-play goals from Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. He made 30 saves.
To go along with Ovechkin’s two goals, Williams, Backstrom and Lars Eller also scored. Backstrom also assisted on both of Ovechkin’s goals.
“When players play with a guy who you know is going to be in the Hall of Fame, I think they know those moments are pretty special,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You know, he sacrificed a lot with this franchise, especially from day one until now. We’re just trying to do it together, and Ovi made a lot of sacrifices over the years.”
Ovechkin is the 37th player in league history to score 1,000 points all with one franchise. His first point with Washington was a one-timer, and that was the start of a stretch where he was the best player for a struggling team. Trotz called that a sacrifice, “carrying the burden of a franchise.”
At 31 and in his 12th season, Ovechkin is a part of a deep team expected to contend for a championship. Because there’s more talent around him, Trotz has reduced his minutes to a career low of fewer than 19 per game “for the betterment of the team” and to keep Ovechkin fresher for later in the season. A captain, Ovechkin accepted that, even as his production suffered in the first half of the season compared with his typically prolific pace.
“He was very sincere after the game talking about all of the guys and how he can’t do this alone and there’s a lot of people who’ve helped him along,” Trotz said. “He was very, very gracious that way.”
Ovechkin said it didn’t matter to him which team he got his 1,000th point against, but that it came against rival Pittsburgh, who Ovechkin has had some of his best battles against, made it sweeter for the fan base. He said that some of his friends who are Penguins fans texted him that they’d be watching and cheering for Ovechkin this time.
He didn’t make them wait long for the point. “He sort of had that look in his eye once he touched the puck that something good was going to happen,” Trotz said. The second one came 8:06 into the second period, a classic Ovechkin one-timer from the left faceoff circle. Fleury lifted his glove to stop the puck as it went past his head, but he wasn’t quick enough for the thunderous shot.
Ovechkin joyfully kicked up a leg in celebration, another tally toward whatever milestone is next.
“Why not?” he said with a shrug.