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Two teams on a roll collide when Caps visit Rangers

Dec 23, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) reacts during a stoppage in play against the Winnipeg Jets in the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Washington Capitals headed into the Christmas break, Alex Ovechkin made history when he surpassed Gordie Howe for second on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

Ovechkin has a ways to go to catch all-time leader Wayne Gretzky, and the Capitals can now resume their focus on fueling their recent surge when they visit the red-hot New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

In a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, Ovechkin matched Howe with his 801st career goal in the final minutes of the first period. He then surpassed Howe by scoring his 802nd career goal into an empty net with one minute remaining after getting a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Gretzky racked up 894 goals.

“You never thought it’s going to happen when you came into the league, (that) you’re going to beat any Gordie Howe record or Wayne Gretzky record or any record,” Ovechkin said. “You felt like, ‘OK, maybe you’re going to play in the NHL, you’re going to be good and you’re going to try to do your best,’ but the whole situation happening right now, it’s a miracle. You know, it’s pretty special.”

Ovechkin’s season total is up to 22, eight behind NHL leader Connor McDavid. Nine of those goals are since a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Dec. 3, and the Capitals are 9-1-0 since. Ovechkin did not score in the first three games of their current four-game winning streak after reaching 800 goals with a hat trick Dec. 13 in Chicago.

“It was special. It’s unbelievable,” Washington’s Dylan Strome said. “After the hat trick to 800, it took a little while to get to 801 and 802, obviously. It was special. When we saw the puck go in, it was relief, I’m sure, from everyone.”

Ovechkin is the first player other than Gretzky or Howe to occupy a top-two spot on that list since Dec. 21, 1991 — the day Gretzky scored his 732nd career goal to overtake Marcel Dionne (731) for second place in NHL history.

Ovechkin has 42 goals in 68 regular-season games against the Rangers, who, like the Capitals are surging since Dec. 3.

Since falling to 11-10-5 with an ugly 5-2 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Rangers are 8-1-0 in their past nine games with wins over the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils.

During their surge, the Rangers have scored at least five goals on five occasions, including Thursday’s 5-3 win over the New York Islanders, which also gave them a fourth straight home victory.

The Rangers erased a trio of one-goal deficits on goals by Artemi Panarin, Julien Gauthier and Barclay Goodrow. The latter’s started a three-goal third period, and Kaapo Kakko broke the 3-3 tie with 2:47 remaining after committing an offensive zone turnover that had resulted in an Islanders’ goal.

“Ten games ago, the season wasn’t looking great,” Goodrow said after Kakko scored off a centering pass by defenseman K’Andre Miller.

“You win eight of nine and we’ve put ourselves in a good position. We’re right in the mix. A 10-game stretch can do a lot. We know how quickly things can go the other way. Obviously, it’s a big confidence boost going on this run. I think we’re playing good hockey; we just want to keep that up,” Goodrow said.

–Field Level Media