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900 and counting: The Ovechkin-Backstrom tandem approaches milestone game

900 and counting: The Ovechkin-Backstrom tandem approaches milestone game

ARLINGTON, Va. -- From the moment Nicklas Backstrom was drafted, he and Alex Ovechkin have been bonded together. When Backstrom was drafted in 2006, it was Ovechkin who actually made the announcement foreshadowing the greatest duo to ever wear a Capitals jersey. Since then, they have both become great players with their own legacies, but with an inescapable link on and off the ice. That link will reach 900 games on Friday.

“I wasn't expecting a whole lot when I first got drafted, but ever since it's been a journey,” Backstrom said. “To be able to play with one of the greatest goal-scorer ever, it's very fortunate.”

When the Capitals play the New Jersey Devils on Friday, it will be the 900th game Ovechkin and Backstrom have played together. Both players have spent their careers building their own individual legacies, but as two star players who have spent nearly their entire careers together, they have also cemented themselves as one of the best duos in the history of hockey, perhaps in sports.

As a tandem, Ovechkin and Backstrom have produced 735 goals together. Of Ovechkin’s 679 goals, Backstrom has assisted in 556 of them. Of Backstrom’s 237 goals, Ovechkin has had a hand in 179 of them.

“He usually yells for the puck so that’s why,” Backstrom said when asked why the two have been able to work together so well.

He added, “Why we've been working so good together may be because I'm more of passer and he's a pure goal-scorer I think. So I think that's why it worked out so good. I think we're a great connection off the ice too. I think that helps too when you're tight together as friendship. It helps too. You can have high expectations on each other on the ice which I think has helped during our careers.”

For 900 games and 13 seasons, Ovechkin and Backstrom have dominated the NHL, a testament to how they complement one another on and off the ice.

“When it started it was awesome and not much has changed in those 900 games since,” John Carlson said. “It's pretty special for two teammates to play that long together, but also be that impactful both on and off the ice in what they've done for hockey in D.C. It's amazing and now the younger generation gets the reap those rewards.”

“[Backstrom's] a tremendous person and an unbelievable center,” Ovechkin said. “To be around him, see how he's grown up, how he's matured, it's great.”

Two star players on the same team does not always breed success. Egos can often get in the way. But managing the two superstars in the locker room has seemingly never been a problem in Washington.

“It's not always when you're talking about two star players, it doesn't always work out perfect and that is the absolute opposite with these two,” Todd Reirden said. “These two get along great in all areas, on the ice, off the ice, challenge each other, play on the same line. How many times Nick has set up Ovi for goals is a crazy amount of assists. They're just both really special in their own way. They're much different personalities which maybe makes it work really well.”

Ovechkin has always been the focal point, anointed by the media as the face of the Capitals from the moment he was drafted in 2004. Backstrom, meanwhile, has never been an attention seeker, instead choosing to speak softly and keep his head down, focused only on improving his game and winning.

“It's something that I had countless nights of lack of sleep when I was coaching against the two of them trying to figure out how to shut them down,” Reirden said, “And then it's been great to obviously now come over and watch how they coexist.”

That formula has brought the team incredible success, culminating in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship in 2018.

“The only thing we do is do something we love, we play hockey together and we're good friends,” Backstrom said. “We've been playing together for a long time, but the most important thing, we've got a championship together.”

From Ovechkin announcing that the Capitals had selected Backstrom in the draft all the way up to when they both held the Cup together, skating across the ice in Vegas, their careers also will forever be linked because of how they have helped one another along the way.

“We have both our families now, but at the same time, I think every time we hang out, it's like the first time we met,” Backstrom said. “We're always having fun together which is a great thing I think which we're going to keep enjoying as long as we're together.”

“It's just a pleasure to be able to coach two guys from two different countries, totally different guys, yet they're like brothers now,” Reirden said. “It's amazing to watch and to think that for 900 games they've been tormenting other teams is something pretty special and will be fun to celebrate that with them against New Jersey.”

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Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to watch

Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to watch

The Caps take on the Jets Thursday night for a rematch, this time in Winnipeg's territory, after the Caps won 4-3 in overtime win at Capital One Tuesday.

After Alex Ovechkin's 700th goal pre-game ceremony, he got goal No. 701 just minutes into the contest.

Here is everything you need to know about Thursday night's game, which takes place at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington. 

CAPITALS VS. JETS GAME 64: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets
Where: Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg, Canada
When: Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: The Capitals vs. Jets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)
Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Jets on NBC Sports Washington’s live stream page and on the NBC Sports App. 
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS. JETS TV SCHEDULE

7:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
7:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
8:00 PM: Capitals vs. Jets (LIVE)
10:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live 
11:00 PM: Chasing Greatness
11:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS VS. JETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: No injuries 
Jets: Josh Morrissey, D, upper body, day-to-day
Sami Niku, D, undisclosed, day-to-day
Luca Sbisa, D, upper body, injured reserved
Brian Little, C, upper body, injured reserved

CAPITALS VS. JETS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Alex Ovechkin, F, Capitals (43-17-60): Ovi is always one to watch on the Caps. With goal No. 701 against the Jets Tuesday, he'll look to keep the momentum going with more goals Thursday night.

Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Jets (23-29-52): Ehlers had a goal and an assist on five shots against the Caps in Tuesday's game. The Caps will need to put the pressure on Ehlers on defense.

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'It's a deep sigh of relief': With the trade deadline past, it's back to business for the Capitals

'It's a deep sigh of relief': With the trade deadline past, it's back to business for the Capitals

ARLINGTON, Va. -- After taking a 3-0 lead on Tuesday, the Capitals watched as the Winnipeg Jets came storming back to tie the game at 3-3. Suffering from a prolonged slump since the end of December, the game was unfolding into another ugly loss for a team that, despite its talent, just could not seem to find its way. This time, however, the collapse was halted. The Caps did not lay down and managed to battle to a 4-3 shootout win.

While blowing a 3-0 lead is nothing to celebrate, the team showed more resiliency than they have shown for two months and forward Garnet Hathaway knew why.

“It's after the trade deadline,” he said. “The guys in this room are the guys that we're going to win with. So that's the mentality right now, we've got to stick to our guns and play to our identity.”

The trade deadline is a time of uncertainty for many players around the league, many of whom don’t know when they wake up on Monday morning if they will still be playing for the same team by 3 p.m. or suddenly have to uproot themselves and their families.

That uncertainty is not just limited to each individual, it can affect an entire team.

“I think with everybody in here, I would say there's definitely a lot of guys probably have a good feeling, 'OK I'm not going to get traded or I am getting traded,'” center Nic Dowd said. “But I'd say the underlying issue is, I hope they don't bring anybody in that's like myself. That's probably what everyone's kind of looking like. As soon as they see 'Washington Capitals trade for' you're like, 'oh, who is it?' and 'is he my position?'”

“I think that players will very rarely discuss the fact that it's bothering them or they're thinking about it, but they're only human as well,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “I think it's a deep sigh of relief for players and now we're ready to move forward knowing this is our group and this is what we're going with.”

Washington is a team with its sights set on a Stanley Cup. That meant they were a team looking to add. But even with the majority of players knowing they would not be moved, the deadline still brings with it uncertainty; uncertainty over where you stand in the lineup, uncertainty over which teammates will still be around after the deadline, uncertainty over what the team will ultimately look like at 3:01 p.m.

Once the deadline passes, however, that distraction is gone and suddenly a team can regain its focus knowing now is the time to focus on the task at hand.

“Now we know that there isn't anymore moving parts,” Reirden said. “Sure, we're going to have to deal with injuries or any other issues, suspensions or different things that go on. That's hockey. But, for the most part, this is our group that we believe in and we think has a really good chance. It's a different vibe after. I can tell you that for sure.”

“The trade deadline pretty much is just kind of a distraction a little bit for everyone,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “So once that's kind of out of the way, there's a sense like it's back to focusing on this final stretch before playoffs. Every team, they're set for the rest of the season. Every team's trying to make their push for the playoffs so there's kind of that sense like, here we go. This is it.”

That certainty also brings with it a sense of unity.

Nothing can replace the bonding that happens between teammates over the course of a full 82-game season, but after the trade deadline has passed comes the realization that this is the team. Whatever happens from here to the postseason and beyond is going to happen with the players who are now on the roster.

There are no more reinforcements coming.

“This is our team, this is who we're going with,” Jensen said. “It's time to bear down and put yourself in as best position as possible to compete in the playoffs.”

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