- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2020

NEWARK, N.J. — Alex Ovechkin’s 700th career goal will live on as a part of Washington Capitals lore for years to come, and rightfully so. Fans and teammates alike anticipated the historic marker for weeks as Ovechkin first went on a scoring tear, then stalled for five games without a goal.

But for all the hoopla around the latest in a string of impressive individual milestones, the goal came with the tinge of regret that always accompanies a loss.

Ovechkin scored the long-awaited 700th goal of his career in the third period of Saturday’s game, but just 13 minutes later, the Capitals allowed the game-winner on a power play and lost 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils.

Ovechkin became the eighth player to score 700 goals in an NHL career, joining Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito and Mike Gartner.

“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 historic goal came 4:50 into the third period. Defenseman Nick Jensen and center Evgeny Kuznetsov shuttled the puck around the back of the net to the captain, who slapped home a one-timer from the right circle. New Jersey goalie Mackenzie Blackwood had lost his stick after the previous shot, and the shot hit the post on its way in.

Kuznetsov was tripped up by P.K. Subban and fell to the ice as his pass reached Ovechkin.

“I didn’t even see (the goal),” Kuznetsov said. “I was trying to flip my back so I didn’t fall and I just heard the post and then fans get loud.”

The Prudential Center scoreboard acknowledged Ovechkin’s accomplishment and the crowd of primarily Devils fans cheered after witnessing history. Meanwhile, Ovechkin yelled, turned to the bench and extended his arms.

His teammates cleared the bench for a teamwide group hug at center ice — after some deliberation over whether or not to do so.

“We had talked about it previously, not today, but when he was close and that we could all celebrate or what have you,” Carlson said. “It was still a little weird, like who is going to go, what is going to happen, but like I said, it was awesome. A memory for sure that I’ll always have.”

The tally tied the game 2-2, which could have been the fuel the Capitals needed to complete a comeback from down 2-0. The Devils continued to end up in the penalty box, but Washington couldn’t take advantage.

Then Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny took consecutive penalties, and while the Capitals played strong defense in the 5-on-3 scenario, Damon Severson fired in the go-ahead goal at 5-on-4 with 1:59 left to play. Kempny’s penalty, a slashing in front of the net, ultimately cost Washington the most.

“I think we did good things after 2-0, the power play,” 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.”

The Capitals (37-18-6, 80 points) have dropped six of their last seven games and are 2-6-1 for the month of February. They failed to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and remained tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Capitals coach Todd Reirden — after calling Ovechkin “in my time, the best goal-scorer I’ve ever seen” — lamented another lost opportunity that would have made the milestone sweeter.

“It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get a point and potentially two to make it a real special night for (Ovechkin), because I know ultimately that’s where his concerns are,” Reirden said. “With winning. Winning games and contending for a Stanley Cup.”

About 13 minutes into the game, Lars Eller delivered a poor pass that was intercepted by Damon Severson. At the same time, Devils winger Jesper Bratt snuck behind Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny in the neutral zone. Severson connected with Bratt to set up the breakaway, and the Swede finished with a quick move to the left to beat Samsonov.

Eller and Kempny paid for their mistake by being benched for the rest of the period.

New Jersey made it a 2-0 lead on a second-period power play after new Washington acquisition Brenden Dillon was sent off for hooking. A Devils shot got by Jensen and Samsonov, hit the post and landed behind the goaltender, where Wayne Simmonds tapped it in.

The Capitals picked up their urgency and managed to draw a pair of penalties. They turned the first into a goal — John Carlson shot from the middle of the blue line and Tom Wilson deflected it in for his 19th goal of the season.

The assist marked Carlson’s 474th career point, tying Calle Johansen for the most career points by a defenseman in franchise history.

New Jersey players continued to end up in the penalty box in the third — which, ultimately, led to Ovechkin’s milestone goal. Ovechkin charged into the zone and Wilson missed a shot from up close before the rebound went to Jensen, triggering the final sequence.

“I don’t think I said anything. I was just screaming,” Wilson said. “I just had that feeling when it went to him. I’ve had that feeling a few times over the past week. It just had that feeling when it went to him that was going to be the one that went in and I was just joking around that’s why I missed the one in tight just before that so that he could get that.”

With the chase for 700 complete, the real story now dogging the Capitals is an inability to play 60 minutes of sound hockey and put away less talented opponents like New Jersey, which is in last place in the Metro.

Reirden and some players admitted to some relief that the milestone is now behind everyone.

“I’m sure it was weighing on O 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 wasn’t making any progress on the goals and we weren’t getting wins. 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 close out their back-to-back Sunday at noon by hosting the Penguins in a battle for first place in the Metro. The game will be televised nationally on NBC.

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