In the final minute of overtime against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was all alone streaking down the right side of the ice. After corralling the puck, right wing T.J. Oshie delivered a perfect pass right in stride to Backstrom, who essentially was one-on-one with Blues goalie Carter Hutton.
"I was just going because I knew the pass was coming," Backstrom said. "I saw those two guys coming and didn't want to deke, I just wanted to shoot it and that corner was open. That was a nice way to finish."
Moments after Backstrom's wrister found the back of the net, a goal that moved him into a tie with Alexander Semin for fifth place in Capitals history for goals scored with 197, he was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
Video: STL@WSH: Backstrom buries OT winner on breakaway
As Backstrom was enveloped by his teammates, the moment showed how much he means to the Capitals, both as an elite player and as a one of team's the most highly-regarded teammates.
Over the course of his 11 seasons in Washington, the Gavle, Sweden native has worked his way into fourth place on the Capitals all-time scoring list with 763 points in a quiet manner, which is just the way he likes it. Backstrom is known for being soft-spoken, and it's hard to get him to open up and talk about how much individual success he's had in his career. But when other Capitals players talk about how much he means to them as a player and teammate, the praise can be overwhelming.
"It's easy to love the guy because he cares about the right things and he wants to win," said Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen. "He wants to be an important player and he wants to have an impact. I'm sure he has personal goals, but none of that trumps team success for him, and that's very evident with the way he carries himself and the way he communicates. There's no greater compliment than to say he's a guy who puts the team before himself."
While Backstrom's teammates rave about how he carries himself off the ice, his intelligence and savvy on the ice draws just as much admiration.
"He probably thinks the game better than anybody I've ever played with," said Capitals right wing Tom Wilson. "He sees plays that other guys can't. When you're playing in the NHL and he makes a play that makes everybody on the team say 'wow', you don't see that very often. On a daily basis he still does stuff that makes you stop and say 'wow, that was pretty nice.' He's definitely got that ability to make plays that nobody in the building expects, and that separates him from most guys."
Backstrom's ability to see plays before they happen is a rare quality, and one that Niskanen says is an innate skill that's hard to teach.
"His understanding of the game is top notch," said Niskanen. "He knows where to be and where the open areas of the ice are. He has good awareness of where his line mates are, and part of that is because his hands are so good. He can just keep his head up and survey the ice, but you have to have an understanding of where to look too."
Although Backstrom might not get the national attention that he deserves for how great of an impact he's had on the Capitals, inside the Capitals locker room, its hard to find a more respected player for what he brings both on and off the ice.