It was fitting, in a cruel sort of way, that one of the Capitals’ quietest and most humble players reached a milestone that fell by the wayside in a game with bigger storylines.
Nicklas Backstrom tallied his 700th career assist Friday night against the Bruins, but the problem was that it came in a 5-1 loss where the Capitals’ defense was an unmitigated disaster and, perhaps most notably, Tom Wilson made a controversial high hit that sent Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo to the hospital.
Jakub Vrana’s goal in the third period ended the shutout and cut the deficit to four, but by then, no one felt like celebrating Backstrom’s milestone.
“Honestly, I lied to you guys before,” Backstrom said postgame. “I said I was going to enjoy it and here we are, losing 5-1. I don't know. It's tough when you lose a game like this and the way we played too. Hopefully we can get a win next game so I can think about it more.”
Backstrom had previously brushed off questions about his 700th career assist, but it certainly meant something to him to further entrench his status in Capitals and NHL history. Unfortunately, it just didn’t mean much to the game at hand.
Of course, Backstrom’s milestone shouldn’t be overlooked by any means.
He’s the 54th player in NHL history to tally 700 assists and the only Capital to do so in franchise history. He’s also the 25th player to reach the 700-assist milestone before his 1,000th NHL game. Of the previous 24 players to reach that mark, 23 of them are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Backstrom (10 goals, 16 assists, 23 games played) is on-pace for 40 assists this season, which would put him 50th all-time in assist leaders ahead of Daniel Alfredsson and just behind Luc Robitaille.
Ten players in the top 50 assists list in NHL history are not in the Hall of Fame, but only because Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby are still active and Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Sedin are not yet eligible. There are also strong pushes for Pierre Turgeon (32nd with 812 assists) and Daniel Alfredsson (50th with 713 assists) to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Should Backstrom, who is signed through the 2024-2025 regular season, have his play dip with age, it’s still not out of the realm of possibility for him to reach north of 850 assists and put himself in the top 25 of all-time assists.
“It's (a) pleasure to play with a player like Nick and obviously I was really happy for him, even (if) the outcome wasn't in our favor as a team,” Vrana said. “And I know individual stats when you have a game like that, he's a great team player and I know he didn't care at the time about that. He cares about the team play. I was happy for him because that accomplishment is not really just about this game, it's about the whole career he has and I'm really happy for him.”
But paired with Wilson’s hit and a potential call from the Department of Player Safety, the defensive breakdowns and brewing rivalry with Boston, the 700th career assist was swept under the rug.
Backstrom’s milestone Friday was certainly not an insignificant one. It just felt like it was at the time.