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Teammates Marvel at Backstrom's Consistent Excellence

Caps alternate captain becomes the only player in the NHL to record 20 goals and 50 assists in each of the last four seasons

by Zach Shapiro @ShapZach / WashingtonCaps.com

When Nicklas Backstrom scored the game's first and fourth goal last Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he set the tone early in a key battle, then helped the Capitals take a commanding lead in their eventual 6-3 win.

He also became the only player in the NHL to post at least 20 goals and 50 assists over the last four seasons, building on his legacy as one of hockey's all-time offensive facilitators.

"For me, it's about how guys who can share the puck - that's everything," Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "That's how they show respect for their partners. If you see the open guy, you always play the game. [Backstrom's] not selfish, that's what [the milestone] says about him."

"It's nice to see both of them get those," Kuznetsov said of Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 50th and 51st goals later in the game. "We're always hyped before someone hits a milestone."

The accomplishment strengthens Backstrom's case as a future Hall of Famer. He's just the 35th player in history to post at least four consecutive 20-goal, 50-assist-seasons - and one of two active players (Joe Thornton: 2002-10) - and 27 of his peers are enshrined while another three just aren't eligible yet. But the potential accolades to follow his career are for another day.

"It's a nice little milestone, I guess," Backstrom said. "Overall I'm not really thinking about it now during the season. But maybe something to look back on when I retire. I'll take it."

Though it may mean little to him now, to his teammates the milestone represents more. They see this feat, reflecting his ability to slow the game down and turn opportunities into points, as a testament to the alternate captain's consistency and quiet leadership.

"You know what you're going to get out of Nick every single game," Braden Holtby said. "That's why he's so good for us. Solid everywhere on the ice, especially in big situations. Everyone has good and bad games, but you know he's going to come in with the same mindset and give everything he has every night."

On this particular night, Backstrom's achievement was somewhat overshadowed by Ovechkin scoring his 50th goal, perhaps a fitting narrative for the main wingman to one of the NHL's all-time goal scorers. But Holtby posited that Backstrom's okay with that.

"He likes going about his business and helping us win games," Holtby said. "He doesn't really have much time for the spotlight, which is why he's such a leader for our team. He's been the heartbeat of our team for a long time and he still is."

Through 79 games Backstrom has 74 points in 2018-19 (22g, 52a) and is tied for 21st in the NHL in assists. It's a familiar spot. Since entering the league in 2007, Backstrom's 642 assists rank first and his 873 points rank fifth overall. He also leads his 2006 draft class in points by at least 82, a note that conjures up memories from that day the Capitals' made him the fourth overall pick.

After Backstrom passed Peter Bondra in November for the second-most points in franchise history, behind only Ovechkin, general manager Brian MacLellan recalled at the time: "We talked a lot about the top five guys in that draft, and we talked about him being a No. 1 center. There were three legitimate centers - (Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal and Nicklas Backstrom) - and we thought he was a first-line power-play guy, a first-line center. I think we knew what we were getting into all along. We were pretty excited to get to draft him."

"He's been a main part of our team for his whole career," MacLellan said then. "Ovechkin gets a little more attention, but they're on equal levels in my mind. They complement each other really well. The organization won a Cup last year because of those two. He's just as important as Ovi's been to us.

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