Saturday was one of those nights that sounds almost too perfect to be real, like it must have come from a movie script rather than real life. On a night in which he was honored in a pregame ceremony for his 1,000 NHL points, Nicklas Backstrom scored the key go-ahead goal in the third period in a night Capitals fans are not likely to forget.
"It was obviously a great night and fun night," Backstrom said. "All emotional at the start and then play a game right after, but then obviously it finished the way me and the team wanted, with a win. That was obviously good."
So much attention in Washington gets paid to Alex Ovechkin and rightly so. He is one of the greatest players of all time. But he is just one of two superstars the team boasts on its roster and Saturday belonged to Backstrom.
“I think it goes to show how lucky Washington, D.C. sports fans are that they get to see these things," T.J. Oshie said. "Not every team has players like these two guys that have been here the whole time and have been in the top of the league for their whole careers so we are just all enjoying it with him and I can’t elaborate it enough, that something special is going on and I hope the fans – I think they do – realize how cool this is to be a part of it.”
The team pulled out all the stops for Backstrom in the ceremony as he was presented with a Tiffany's crystal, a golden hockey stick and custom golf clubs, a present from his teammates. There was also a video tribute that included messages from Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby (who was thoroughly booed by Caps faithful) and, of course, Ovechkin.
"It’s such a tremendous accomplishment," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "To have his family in town to celebrate that. For the fans that he’s been in front of for so many years, it was a great night."
Then, with his parents, brother, fiancee and three children in attendance, Backstrom proved to be the hero.
In the third period with the game tied at two, Backstrom fired a wrist shot to beat New Jersey Devils goalie Nico Daws for the go-ahead goal. That goal gave Washington its first lead of the game and, though it ultimately did not hold up as the game-winner, it was the key turning point of the game in what ended in a 4-3 win.
But the goal itself was only part of what made Saturday so memorable. The lasting images of Saturday are not of Backstrom's goal, but rather of the celebration after. Fans in attendance had been given foam apples as a giveaway to celebrate Backstrom and his penchant for racking up assists. When Backstrom scored the goal, hundreds if not thousands of those apples began to rain down from the arena onto the ice.
"I was like, this is amazing," Backstrom said. "I mean, I didn't score a hat trick, but it was fun that the crowd did it. It was hilarious."
"They filled the rink pretty quick," Laviolette said.
There was a short delay as the ice crew tried to clear the playing surface. There were so many apples that the players ultimately had to chip in to help clear the ice.
"All the players just keep shoveling," Backstrom said. "They needed some help. It was just an awesome experience."
It was a fitting tribute as fans recognized the often overlooked superstar whose greatness is frequently overshadowed by his teammate. But giving Backstrom his due mattered to the fans and mattered to the team as the soft-spoken center has more than earned everything he has accomplished in his career.
"I think anyone that knows hockey or watches the Caps knows that those 1,000-plus points for these guys, there is not one selfish one in there," Oshie said. "His teammates realize that and respect the hell of him and love him like a brother. To be here to share this moment with him and his family, it is just really cool and one of those highlights that we will have of our career that is not necessarily about us but we can say we were there and we saw it and felt the emotion. So super cool night for us and we are all really proud of Nick.”