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Ovechkin is good for a game desperate for scoring stars

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Ovechkin on 500th goal: 'It's a huge honor for me' (2:06)

Alex Ovechkin joins SportsCenter to discuss what it means to him to become the first Russian-born player to score 500 goals in the NHL. (2:06)

WASHINGTON -- At a time when the game's deep thinkers and even the shallow thinkers ponder how to get more pucks into more nets, it is nice for a change to pause and celebrate the most gifted goal scorer of our generation.

From the moment the puck dropped Sunday night at the sold-out Verizon Center, there was a crackle of anticipation. The players felt it too -- even if Alex Ovechkin suggested he did not -- that this would be the night, that it was just a matter of time before Ovechkin scored the 500th goal of his career.

As it turned out it was just that -- a matter of time -- as Ovechkin followed a blueprint that has served him so well since coming into the league in 2005-06: biding his time on a power play before ripping a Jason Chimera pass over Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond with 3:41 left in the second period of Sunday's 7-1 thumping.

In a millisecond, Ovechkin's teammates were on the ice to embrace him, the first Russian-born player to score 500 goals. The 30-year-old, who has always had a keen appreciation of his relationship with the fans in this city, acknowledged them with waves and claps of his gloved hands.

He searched the crowd, finding his father and mother, and blew them kisses.

"It's a very special moment for them," a subdued Ovechkin told reporters later.

He admitted he was surprised at the reaction from his teammates, even though linemate T.J. Oshie said everyone but Ovechkin knew what was going to happen.

"Yeah, 'O' didn't know we were all going out there, but everyone on the team knew we were jumping if he scored," Oshie said.

At the start of the season, Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla were the only active NHL players who had scored 500 goals.

Marian Hossa will get there in the next few weeks. Patrick Marleau will get there, too.

Who else?

No one on the immediate horizon.

Ovechkin becomes the 43rd NHL player to reach the fabled milestone.

And if there was ever a time when scoring 500 perhaps might have been a little ho-hum, those days are long past.

In a game in which goaltenders have never been better, defenders never more tenacious, shots never harder to get through to their mark, these now-infrequent moments are indeed cause not just for celebration but perhaps even for a kind of reverence.

"I just think it's been a number that's been there for a while and the elite players get to that number," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in an interview.

"I think there's a status that has historically surrounded that number. And it actually is a good barometer because you look at the names of the guys that have done it and it's pretty indicative that he's been a major player or goal scorer in the league."

Throw in that Ovechkin plays the game in a way that no other Russian has ever played it -- at least not for this long in the NHL -- and this is a moment to savor.

"I think the milestone is just huge in its own right and to be the first Russian, I mean the way he plays the game is a North American style," MacLellan added. "I think he's changed the way Russians view playing over here too. I think it's a great deal for anybody and it's a great deal for a Russian guy coming over to do it."

I asked Ovechkin the other day if somehow scoring became less exciting as time has passed. He seemed surprised at the notion.

Instead, he said scoring only makes you want to score more. And more. And more.

In fact, he looked as happy Sunday when he scored No. 501 midway through the third period as he did when he scored No. 500.

We're long past the time when Ovechkin's exuberant celebrations might have raised eyebrows or drawn criticism from the mostly Canadian defenders of the mysterious hockey code.

And we're long past any or at least much criticism of Ovechkin as a one-dimensional player, given his willingness to work under various coaches' systems in recent years.

Through it all, Ovechkin's seemingly inextinguishable joy at not necessarily scoring but merely playing has been constant.

"Either knowingly or unknowingly, he improves everybody's demeanor," said Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner who joined the Capitals this season.

"He's got the big smile on his face, he's got a goofy smile. He's always happy to be around and he loves scoring goals, and it's infectious. It carries on."

Perhaps Capitals head coach Barry Trotz put it best leading up to No. 500.

"If you don't like celebrating, then you're taking the kid out of the game," Trotz said.

"That's what makes him special. Watch him celebrate when Nick Backstrom scores. It's the same. He still has that child-type energy and enthusiasm that when us older people lose it, you sort of lose a piece of yourself. And that's what makes him great.

"He loves the big moments and loves to score goals and loves to be a part of it. It doesn't matter if he scores it or someone else does, he's happy. That's, I think, a great quality to have. That's a love of the game."

And maybe that's it in a nutshell.

There will be other great goal scorers. There will be other 500-goal celebrations in other cities.

But logic tells us that they are rare moments, even if we see Ovechkin and wonder when it might ever end.

"It's just a celebration of a great career that's still got a lot of years left," Williams said. "To do what he's done in this day and age with this competition, it's amazing and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it this year. I know he wants to write a little bit more history, but so far it's been pretty impressive."

And so we take a moment to savor nights like this one in Washington, with the fans on their feet and Ovechkin's teammates swarming off the bench to celebrate a moment in time, not just for a special player but for the game.