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1,000 Games Later, Backstrom & Ovechkin Still Surging With Capitals: ‘A Perfect Match’



Capitals Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Back in the summer of 2006, a baby-faced Alex Ovechkin took the stage at Rogers Arena (then General Motors Place) in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was given the task of announcing the Washington Capitals’ first-round pick of Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom. Management knew that the two would form a strong on-ice dynamic, but no one could guess just how much would come from that introduction: years of success, numerous milestones and all-time records, the complete turnaround of a franchise and city and an everlasting friendship.

Now in their mid-30s and still cementing their NHL legacies while leading the Capitals, Backstrom and Ovechkin are set to hit the ice together for their 1,000th NHL game on Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome when Washington faces the Calgary Flames. And over the course of 15 years, the two have grown up together, raised families alongside each other and helped transform D.C. into a hockey city while capturing their first Stanley Cup together in 2018. Those moments and memories are something that neither of them take for granted as they continue to dominate the league.

“[Our friendship means a lot]. He meant a lot for me, especially the first couple years,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin. “He took me under his wing. Then when we got older, I took him under my wing… there’s never a boring day around that guy.”

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The two first hit the ice together back on Oct. 5, 2007, in a tilt against the Atlanta Thrashers, where both picked up one assist. As time has passed, both have remained the face of the franchise and a constant over the course of their lengthy careers, as both veterans have continued to produce on a consistent basis and climb multiple all-time leaderboards within the franchise and across the league. Ovechkin, of course, is the team’s all-time goals (764) and points (1,388) leader, while Backstrom leads the franchise in assists (735).

Backstrom has assisted on 35.9 percent of Ovechkin’s goals — 274 of the 764 total strikes and 117 of Ovi’s 279 power-play markers — while Ovechkin has chipped in on 40.5 percent (106) of Backstrom’s 262 career tallies. When it comes to what makes them such a strong duo on the ice, head coach Peter Laviolette credits their different skillsets. While both don’t possess the same type of playing style, their abilities complement each other extremely well.

“Well, they’re different. I mean they’re two of the top players in the game, they have been for a long time,” Laviolette explained. “One of them has a skill set to make plays that’s like I said is one of the best in the league. And the other one has the ability to deliver the puck to the net, he’s arguably the best in the league. It’s a good combination and a good tandem. They’ve been such good players for such a long time consistency year after year after year. And that’s the reason why this organization has done so well for so long. They’ve had some pieces that have been in place that are the true core of this team. And they drive the success of this team.”

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Both are also closing in on major milestones as they become the ninth set of NHL teammates to play 1,000 games together — and the seventh duo to do so with one team.

“We start together to build this relationship, build this chemistry,” Ovechkin shared. “I think we enjoy to play together… we have fun and it’s hard to stop [us] especially when Nicky have the puck and he’s flying out there. It’s fun to watch, I just have to be open all the time and try to put the puck in. It’s fun to play with him, he’s one of the best.”

Ovechkin is three goals away from passing Jaromir Jagr for the third-most goals in NHL history and also sits 12 points away from 1,400 in his career. At 36 years old, he is among the league leaders in scoring with 34 goals and 68 points in 55 appearances, and he continues to hit strides and defy expectations. In the big picture, he is 131 red lights away from passing Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.

“It’s just nonstop. Every time he’s in a game, every time he’s on the ice, on the bench, if we don’t get a shift, he’s like, ‘Let’s go,’” Tom Wilson said of Ovechkin’s impact. “He wants to score again. It’s just nonstop. He just has a drive that I’ve never seen before, and it shows in his game. He just keeps going, and he’s a machine.

“When he’s playing like that, you just try and complement him any way you can and get him the puck because he’s a force to be reckoned with. It’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s just got that passion and that drive that is really second to none.”

“No one likes to score goals more than [Ovi],” Backstrom said earlier in the year. “When he does these milestones almost every night now, it’s just amazing to be a part of. He’s been giving us some good memories, too. Being a part of that, it’s fun.”

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Meanwhile, Backstrom is three points away from 1,000 in his career. His journey to the 1K mark hasn’t been as flashy as the Great 8. He is sneaky and quiet on the ice, but has been and remains one of the most dangerous centers in the NHL. When he does reach milestones, the humble 34-year-old plays it modestly.

“That’s just the way he is. I think it’s pretty impressive when you have an individual that just keeps doing his thing. His accolades are what some people would write a novel about, but he just keeps doing his thing,” Wilson explained. “He never wants the attention, he’s always putting it on teammates. He’s always pushing other people and friends and teammates to the forefront, into the limelight. And Nick just keeps doing his thing. It’s hard to find nowadays truly loyal, humble people, and Nick is one of those.

“I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s just a guy that he doesn’t need to say much. You just learn from him. It’s very impressive. He’s one of the best players in the world, he always will be. Anyone that knows the game of hockey is pretty impressed with the stuff that he does on a day-to-day basis, out on the ice and the plays he sees.”

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When it comes to their dynamic, Backstrom and Ovechkin have cemented their legacy as the Capitals’ top all-time duo. Washington has a record of 590-299-110 with both No. 8 and No. 19 in the lineup. Not only that, since Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on board in D.C., the Capitals have made the postseason every year but one.

“The organization is fortunate to have two character people and high-skill people that complement each other as well as these two do,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Personality-wise, on and off the ice, their skillsets are a perfect match for each other. Nick the playmaker that’s more quiet and reserved. And Ovi’s the opposite. Goal-scorer, finisher, more extroverted. It’s been fun to watch those two do what they’ve done. 1000 games is an incredible accomplishment.”

Washington takes on Calgary at 9 p.m. ET. Vitek Vanecek will start, and the team will not make any lineup changes. The Capitals have won their last two games.

“I was watching them when they were starting. I was in awe then and I’m still in awe now,” teammate Garnet Hathaway said. “Not a lot of guys get to 1,000 games. To have a duo that’s played 1,000 together just shows how great of players they are how well they complement each other how they carry themselves as well. You can’t take seasons off or games off or nights off and be able to do what they’ve done. Since ’07, they’ve been huge for this organization but it’s huge for the NHL. It’s an iconic duo that you’re watching night in and night out. It’s special, it really is. They hit the milestones together, it’s fun to watch, to get a front-row to Nicky as well.”

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