You don't have to convince Capitals fans that Nicklas Backstrom is an elite superstar, but his former coach Bruce Boudreau likens him to Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier.
The shadow of Alex Ovechkin has loomed large in Washington throughout Backstrom's career. While Backstrom has managed to establish himself as an elite talent in his own right over the course of 13 NHL seasons, no one was giving him much thought in his rookie season in 2007-08. Yes, he was a high draft pick, but Ovechkin was entering just his third NHL season and would go on to score 65 goals so all eyes were on him. It took a lot to take the spotlight off of the Great 8 that year, but Backstrom managed to do it on March 21, 2008, against the Atlanta Thrashers. That game was featured on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals' Greatest Hits on Monday.
"[Backstrom's] mind was thinking a thought ahead over everybody," said Boudreau. Boudreau was in his first season as an NHL head coach in the 2007-08 season, having replaced Glen Hanlon in November 2007.
While everyone was already mesmerized by Ovechkin, Boudreau could tell that Backstrom was a special player as well and he showed that in this game against the Thrashers.
"Backstrom, even though he was really young at that age, was going to be a great player," Boudreau said.
After a dreadful start to the season, the Caps had managed to claw their way back to the playoff bubble, but they remained on the outside looking in. They needed every point they could muster at that point in the season. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead, they then allowed three unanswered in the second period, but Ovechkin and Backstrom then took over in the third. Ovechkin scored his second of the night midway through the final frame to make it 3-2. Backstrom then scored the game-tying and game-winning goals within 32 seconds of each other to secure a huge win.
Reminiscing about this game Boudreau was asked who Backstrom reminded him of and he answered, "A player who's not overly fast or overly strong, like a Brian Trottier."
Trottier is a Hall of Fame player who played from 1975 to 1994, compiling 1,425 points along the way. He won the Hart Trophy in 1979, the Conn Smythe in 1980 and won the Stanley Cup six times, four times with the New York Islanders and twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That's pretty elite company.
As for the 2007-08 season, Washington would not lose again in the regular season after the win on March 21.
As he does, Ovechkin stole the show in 2007-08, scoring 65 goals and winning the Hart Trophy as he led the Caps to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. But as games like the one on March 21 show, the Caps don't get to the postseason without the key contributions of Backstrom.
Said Boudreau, "I think [Ovechkin and Backstrom are] two of the greatest people I've ever met and I was thrilled to be a part of their team for a few years."
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