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Ovechkin scores 60th goal as Capitals rally

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Alex Ovechkin became the first NHL player in 12 years to score 60 goals in a season when he tallied twice in the Washington Capitals’ 5-3 comeback win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday.

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Not since Mario Lemieux scored 69 goals and then Pittsburgh team mate Jaromir Jagr added 62 during the 1995-96 season had a player topped 60 goals.

“It was a big win for us,” Ovechkin, who became the 19th NHL player to score 60 in a season, told reporters.

“It’s always fun to score goals, especially when it’s important goals,” the 22-year-old Russian winger added. “It was a very important goal for my team. Sixty is 60.”

Former Edmonton player and current Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky holds the record, with 92 in the 1981-82 season.

Ovechkin collected his historic goal 11:30 into the third period to launch a four-goal assault that rallied the Capitals from a 3-1 deficit. He scored Washington’s other goal 15:18 into the first period.

Rookie center Nicklas Backstrom fuelled the comeback with two goals in 32 seconds in the third. The first tied the score with four minutes left and the second put Washington ahead as the Capitals continued their push for a playoff spot.

Boyd Gordon finished the scoring with an empty-netter for the Capitals with eight seconds left.

Ovechkin assisted on that goal and Backstrom’s game-winner to boost his totals for the season to 46 assists and an NHL-leading 106 points.

“If there’s ever a case for who’s the MVP of the league, I’ve got to believe he said it on the ice tonight,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. “I thought in the third period he said, ‘Get on my back and we’re going to go.’ I thought he was phenomenal in the third period.”

The win gave Washington 82 points, one less than Boston, which currently holds down the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 83 points.

The Capitals trail the Carolina Hurricanes by five points for the Southeast Division lead with six games remaining.

“We knew how difficult it would be if we didn’t come home with two points in this game,” Boudreau said. “It was going to be an uphill climb. Not that it already isn’t.”

Jim Slater had two goals for Atlanta, which was out-shot 23-2 in the third period.

Writing by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Ed Osmond