Alex Ovechkin continued his incredible climb to 500 career goals with a flourish.
His 499th goal in his 800th regular-season game came in classic fashion for the Washington Capitals power forward on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
After an end-to-end rush up the left side, a swift cut to the slot and a wrister through Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s legs and past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime lifted the Capitals to a 4-3 victory, the Russian celebrated his second score of the game by spinning on his knees, grinning and then face-planting on the ice.
“I saw [Rick] Nash go to one side then I used my speed to get to the middle,” Ovechkin said. “I made a move and put it in.”
With another goal on Sunday against the Ottawa Senators or against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, the Great 8 could become the fifth-fastest player in NHL history to reach 500, joining select company: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull. Phil Esposito scored his 500th in his 803rd game.
Ovechkin will be the 43rd player to reach 500 goals.
“When he comes down the wing like that and cuts in, you just try to be in good position,” Lundqvist said of Saturday’s game-winner. “You don’t really see the puck when he shoots it through the legs like that. He’s done it a lot of times; he’s pretty good at it.”
Lundqvist has seen the talent up close and often. Ovechkin has scored 20 goals against Lundqvist, the most he has scored against a goaltender in his career. Kari Lehtonen is second at 19. To be fair, no goaltender is immune. Ovechkin leads the league in goals since 2001-02 despite beginning his NHL career in 2005.
“We’ve seen that a couple times, when he gets that look, when he touches the puck that it was going to end up in the net,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “He’s a difference-maker when he gets that look.”
Ovechkin, 30, a righthander who plays the left wing, opened the scoring Saturday in far less dramatic fashion. He picked off a poor Dan Girardi pass near the left side of the net on a power play with 15 seconds left in the first period. It was his only shot on goal to that point.
“Sometimes a great player reads it [the pass],” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who called Ovechkin “one of the most dynamic players in the world.”
Few can dispute his domination, especially in an era when overall scoring is diminishing. In his 11th NHL season, he is one of only six players to reach at least 50 goals in a season six times. The others: Gretzky, Bossy, Lemieux, Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur.
By the end of this season, he may make it a seventh time.
FASTEST TO 500
Alex Ovechkin has 499 goals in 800 regular-season games. The fastest:
Wayne Gretzky, Oilers575
Mario Lemieux, Penguins605
Mike Bossy, Islanders 647
Brett Hull, Blues 693
Phil Esposito, Blackhawks-Bruins 803