But that wasn’t easy for the Washington Capitals forward in the aftermath of a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Saturday.
Ovechkin became the eighth player to score 700 NHL goals when he scored 4:50 into the third period. The 34-year-old joined Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).
“That’s pretty good company, so I’m happy to be there,” Ovechkin said. “But we have to focus on different things, and right now it’s important points for us and tomorrow is going to be a big game.”
The Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday (12 p.m. ET: NBC, TVAS) and the points will be important with the rivals tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Ovechkin will try to get started on his next 100 goals and continue his pursuit of Gretzky’s NHL record of 894.
That those things are being discussed puts into perspective what he’s already over his 15 NHL seasons and 1,144 regular-season games. Only Gretzky was younger when he scored his 700th; he was 29 playing for the Los Angeles Kings against the New York Islanders on Jan 3, 1991.
And only Gretzky, who scored his 700th in his 886th game, reached the milestone in fewer games.
“We’re proud of him,” Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “Like I always say, you know, I see him every day, and you don’t really realize who you play with, the guy having the chance to be No. 1 in the whole history, which is part of that.”
Kuznetsov made the pass to set up Ovechkin’s 700th. It started with Ovechkin throwing the puck toward the net from above the right circle. Capitals forward Tom Wilson tried to jam it under goalie Mackenzie Blackwood from the right side of the crease but was stopped twice. Blackwood lost his stick during the scramble and the puck ended up behind the net and eventually in the left corner.
While Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen retrieved the puck and passed it to Kuznetsov behind the net, Ovechkin had worked his way open in the right circle, not his usual spot in the left one.
Kuznetsov was tripped from behind by Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, so he was falling when he passed to Ovechkin, who one-timed a slap shot that clanked in off the far post.
“Sometimes you get that feel that it’s going to go in,” Wilson said. “I saw him in a position to shoot, and post and in if I’m correct. I just heard it, and pretty special to have a front row seat to something like that.”
After seeing the puck go in, Ovechkin immediately turned toward the Capitals bench and dropped to his right knee while pumping both arms.He then raised his arms and was mobbed by his teammates, who came off the bench to join the celebration.
“I was just happy,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “I was standing up and then guys were jumping on the ice, so I was like, ‘What are we doing here?’ And I think I was the last guy in the pile there, so I wasn’t sure whether we were jumping on or not, but obviously great celebration for him and for us as a team.”
Recognizing it was witnessing history, the sellout crowd of 16,514 responded with a loud ovation while the Devils congratulated Ovechkin by announcing the milestone on the large center-ice video screen. After the Capitals returned to their bench, Ovechkin stood at center ice and applauded the fans for their show of respect.
“Yeah, a pretty good pass by Kuzy and I hit the net,” Ovechkin said. “It hit the post and goes in. It’s over, so move on.”
Moving on might be best for him and the Capitals. The chase for 700 dragged over the past three weeks after a surge of 14 goals in seven games, capped by a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4, got him to 698.
After a season-long five-game drought, Ovechkin scored No. 699 in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. That No. 700 also came in a loss dampened the mood afterward.
“Once it was kind of creeping up and it took a few games to get it, I’m sure it was weighing on [Ovechkin] a little bit,” Jensen said. “But I know the true focus for him and for the whole team is to get wins, and we were kind of getting neither there at one point. He was making progress in goals and we weren’t getting wins.
“So hopefully this will kind of give us a little push in the right direction and hopefully we can get back on track here.”
The Capitals need some kind of push. They are 1-5-1 in their past seven games and have struggled to find consistency in their play.
They didn’t have it Saturday, falling behind 2-0 before tying it on a power-play goal from Wilson in the second period, and Ovechkin’s 700th, which was his 42nd of the season, in the third. But they couldn’t find a way to get a third goal, failing twice on the power play, including a 5-on-3 for 14 seconds, before Devils defenseman Damon Severson scored the winning power-play goal with 1:59 remaining.
“I think we did good things after 2-0,” Ovechkin said. “Then, we have a chance to get the lead, but we didn’t execute. Then, we take two penalties and it cost us the game.”
Maybe Ovechkin will forget about that by the time the puck is dropped Sunday. If not, a victory will help.
“Again, pretty big number, pretty good company,” Ovechkin said. “So, let’s forget about it and it goes on.”