Alex Ovechkin made a dent in chase of Wayne Gretzky record

The Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin got back into the playoffs after one season out.

The NHL star also made a significant dent in his chase of all-time goal leader Wayne Gretzky.

Ovechkin started the 2023-24 season 72 goals behind Gretzky. After scoring his 31st goal on Tuesday night in the regular-season finale, he trails the Great One by 41 goals.

This season, Ovechkin hit the 30-goal mark for the 18th time in his career, breaking the record he had shared with Hall of Famer Mike Gartner. He broke Gretzky's record for empty-net goals and moved into second place all-time with 19 consecutive 20-goal seasons. He also improved to 129 game-winning goals, leaving him six behind record-holder Jaromir Jagr.

Topping 30 goals seemed unlikely for Ovechkin before the All-Star break, when he had several long droughts. But he looked more like his usual self after getting 18 goals in 24 games, including eight goals in five games. He also had a run of four goals in four games in early April.

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, left, celebrates after scoring his 31st goal of the season during the regular-season finale.
Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, left, celebrates after scoring his 31st goal of the season during the regular-season finale.

Gretzky, who played from 1979-99, has a record 894 regular-season NHL goals. Ovechkin, 38, who passed Gordie Howe last season to move into second place, has 853 goals and needs 42 more to pass Gretzky. Ovechkin has two years left on his contract after this season and would need to average 21 goals a season.

Here's where he stands in his chase of Gretzky's goal record:

How many goals did Alex Ovechkin score this season?

Ovechkin had 31 goals this season. Entering the season, he needed to average 24 goals a season during his current contract to tie Gretzky's record. His pace had been for 14 goals before the All-Star break.

How close is Alex Ovechkin to Wayne Gretzky?

Ovechkin, with 853 career goals, needs 42 goals to break Gretzky's record.

What did Alex Ovechkin do in the Capitals' last game?

Tuesday: He scored on his lone shot to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Washington won 2-1 in a wild finish to clinch a playoff berth.

How did Alex Ovechkin's season go?

He had an uncharacteristically slow start before the All-Star break. Ovechkin had no shots on goal in consecutive games for the first time in his career and only two goals in his first 12 games. He scored three goals over his next three games before going through a career-worst 14-game drought. He went another three games without a goal before scoring in back-to-back games on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. He had no goals in the eight games surrounding a three-game injury absence.

Ovechkin then got on a roll. He scored on Jan. 27 during the Capitals' last game before the All-Star break and scored in six of the first seven games after the break. He was held to two goals over 11 games, then had eight goals in his next five games. He also had a stretch of four goals over four games in early April.

He finished second on the Capitals with 65 points in 79 games and moved up to 13th place in career points (1,550).

Who are the NHL's top all-time goal scorers?

The top 20 NHL all-time goal scorers have all topped 600 goals. All are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, except Ovechkin and Jaromir Jagr, who has suited up this season in the Czech Republic.

1. Wayne Gretzky,  894 goals in 1,487 games

2. Alex Ovechkin, 853 goals in 1,426 games

3. Gordie Howe, 801 goals in 1,767 games

4. Jaromir Jagr, 766 goals in 1,733 games

5. Brett Hull, 741 goals in 1,269 games

6. Marcel Dionne, 731 in 1,348 games

7. Phil Esposito, 717 goals in 1,282 games

8. Mike Gartner, 708 goals in 1,432 games

9. Mark Messier, 694 goals in 1,756 games

10. Steve Yzerman, 692 goals in 1,514 games

11. Mario Lemieux, 690 goals in 915 games

12. Teemu Selanne, 684 goals in 1,451 games

13. Luc Robitaille, 668 goals in 1,431 games

14. Brendan Shanahan, 656 goals in 1,524 games

15. Dave Andreychuk, 640 goals in 1,639 games

16. Jarome Iginla, 625 goals in 1,554 games

17. Joe Sakic, 625 goals in 1,378 games

18. Bobby Hull, 610 goals in 1,063 games

19. Dino Ciccarelli, 608 goals in 1,232 games

20. Jari Kurri, 601 goals in 1,251 games

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky goal record: How he did