This article is in honor of 8/19 Day.
In June, the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights faced off against each other in a historic Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals emerged triumphant, for the first time in their 44-year history. But while that win was an emotional experience for everyone tangled up in the organization, it was palpable on the faces of two of the franchise’s biggest stars.
For Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the turbulent road to their Stanley Cup victory stretched out over a decade, and they experienced their share of playoff heartbreaks along the way.
In 2006, #ALLCAPS Alex Ovechkin made the announcement on NHL Draft stage that the @Capitals were selecting Nicklas Backstrom. Twelve years later, they are heading to the #StanleyCup Final https://t.co/y8avp9zTn6 pic.twitter.com/8vKiMVebl0
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) May 24, 2018
Their journey together began in 2006, at General Motors Place, Vancouver, B.C., when Ovechkin selected Backstrom fourth overall in the NHL Draft for the Washington Capitals.
“It was amazing,” Backstrom said then. “He has good speed and is a goal scorer. Maybe we can do it together. I can be a playmaker to him.”
Backstrom and Ovechkin wouldn’t play together for another year, with Backstrom opting to return to Swedish team Brynäs for the 2006–07 season. With Backstrom centering for Ovechkin, he assisted the Russian machine on the way to winning both the Art Ross and Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophies. Backstrom ended his rookie year with 69 points (14 goals and 55 assists), and was the runner-up for the 2007–08 Calder Memorial Trophy.
That production continued through subsequent seasons, right up until the 2012-13 NHL lockout. Ovechkin chose to return to the KHL to play with Dynamo Moscow, though the lockout wouldn’t keep them apart for long. Backstrom joined Ovechkin in Moscow, and also signed with Dynamo. Ovechkin had a hand in both convincing Backstrom to join him with regular phonecalls, but also negotiating Backstrom’s contract.
“Ovechkin’s been calling since he came to Moscow,” Backstrom told SVT Sport. “It’ll be fun. I’m leaving today.”
That fun included attending a birthday party together.
Trotz on splitting 8/19: "It's like a marriage. Sometimes an odd weekend road trip's a good idea."
Then later "That's gonna be on Twitter."
— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) 29 March 2015
After returning to the NHL once the lockout ended, Backstrom and Ovechkin fell back into their usual form, though they struggled to push past the second round in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
However, the 2017-18 postseason changed the tide, as the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The moment was emotional for both Ovechkin and Backstrom, and though Backstrom was still sidelined with a hand injury, the two embraced in the locker room after their Game Six win.
“It was just a special moment,” Backstrom said about their hug, almost a week later. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
It was not to be their last hug in the 2017-18 playoffs. Backstrom returned to the lineup for the Eastern Conference Final, where the Capitals were triumphant over the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
“You just have to look at each other,” Backstrom said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this, so now we’re in the finals and we’re going to do everything we can to do something special here for us, for the team and for the city.”
Those words would be prophetic, as the Capitals moved on to only their second ever Stanley Cup Final. In a near fairy tale moment during Game Five, Backstrom did what he had always done throughout his storied career with Ovechkin: he notched the primary assist on a classic Ovi one-timer, on the power play.
Alex Ovechkin gives the Caps back the lead on the PP pic.twitter.com/C4ZFzy9cb9
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) June 8, 2018
When they eventually downed the Golden Knights in Game Five to seal their victory, there was never any doubt as to who Ovechkin would pass the Cup to.
SO I synced the audio up with the NBC broadcast AAAAAAAAAAAAA pic.twitter.com/hhMntTJ7ur
— 🏒 (@NlCKLAS) June 11, 2018
“Hey, I give it second,” Ovechkin said, leaning in to Backstrom. “You’re the [expletive] next one. After me, I give it to you, baby.”
It was the perfect culmination to a difficult and heart-wrenching journey, watching Ovechkin and Backstrom take a turn around the ice, the Cup raised above their heads. Together. The way that it was always meant to be.
Teammates over the last 11 seasons, Ovechkin and Backstrom are the longest-tenured players on the Capitals. Of Ovechkin's 509 goals since the 2007-08 season, Backstrom's rookie season, Backstrom has recorded an assist on 220 of Ovechkin's goals (43.22 percent) #NHLAwards #ALLCAPS
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 19, 2018
Headline photo: @Capitals
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.