LAS VEGAS -- First came the tears then the hug, which had been 11 seasons in the making.
There they were, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, each with his hands eagerly smearing the Stanley Cup that they held over their heads at T-Mobile Arena. Having been teammates on the Washington Capitals since 2007, this was the precious moment they sought for more than a decade, a moment that always eluded them.
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They exchanged words. Some were swears, Backstrom admitted. But one word cut deeper than the others.
"Finally," Ovechkin said to Backstrom, grinning from ear to ear.
"Finally," Backstrom replied, reciprocating the smile.
"This is what we wanted the whole time," Backstrom said. "This is what we dreamed about for years."
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The dream became reality when the Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 to win the Stanley Cup Final in five games Thursday. When it was all over, Ovechkin came to Backstrom with the Stanley Cup and the two skated around the ice together hoisting it in the air.
"It was great," Backstrom said. "He told me beforehand he was going to give it to me but it was nice that he skated around with it with me. We've waited a long time for this so to be able to share this with him is just so great."
The Capitals previously reached the Eastern Conference Second Round six times in the Ovechkin-Backstrom era but could never advance. Backstrom said that's why defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games at that stage this postseason gave the Capitals the boost of confidence they needed.
"I don't think we had too high expectations this year," Backstrom said. "But we worked our way into the season and the playoffs too. We played our best hockey at the end and that's what we needed."
Backstrom said it was nice that he and Ovechkin could combine for a goal, a connection that has worked so well for so many years. Backstrom's perfect cross-ice pass teed up Ovechkin's power play one-timer at 10:14 of the second period, giving Washington a 2-1 lead.
Backstrom assisted on 230 of Ovechkin's 607 regular-season goals and on 22 of his 61 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He said none was bigger than this one.
"It was special for us to do that in this game, on this special night," Backstrom said. "But the whole night was special for all of us. A lot of us like Braden [Holtby] and John [Carlson] have been together for a while and have waited a long time for this."
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Holtby wasn't even the starting goalie for the Capitals when the playoffs began. He was planted on the bench behind Philipp Grubauer for the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. After two losses, coach Barry Trotz started Holtby in Game 3 and he finished the playoffs with a 16-7 record.
"I'm tired of talking about that," Holtby said, breaking into laughter. "We're all about team here and I just wanted us to win, no matter who was between the pipes.
"It's definitely special. Just watching some of my teammates lift the Cup for the first time, guys that I've been with here for years and we went through so much heartbreak together, I'm so proud of them. It's an amazing feeling. I couldn't do it with a better group of guys.
"It doesn't come easy. It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up and we finally did it."
Holtby and defenseman John Carlson were teammates with the Hersey Bears in the American Hockey League 2009-10 before becoming mainstays with the Capitals. They have a special bond like the one between Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Carlson set a Capitals single-season playoff record for points by a defenseman with 20 (five goals, 15 assists). His second-period assist on Ovechkin's goal gave him 55 NHL playoff points, eclipsing the previous Washington record for a defenseman by Calle Johansson.
"We were one of the closest teams," Carlson said. "People said we weren't going to be great this year but we worked through things. We won our division, we won the Eastern Conference, then we won the Stanley Cup. What more can you say?"
No one was happier for Ovechkin than Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Video: Kuznetsov on winning the Stanley Cup
Kuznetsov led the playoffs with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), five more than Ovechkin (15 goals, 12 assists). Yet when the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP went to Ovechkin, Kuznetsov said it was the right choice.
"He's our leader," Kuznetsov said. "For guys like he and Nick and [Holtby] and Carlson, they've worked a long time for this.
"It's such a great feeling for them to get rewarded. For all of us to get rewarded."