A few long-standing traditions mercifully ended once Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom finally raised the Stanley Cup last June. The weight of having never won was lifted and the same old questions about whether they’d ever get it done came to a screeching halt. But Stanley Cup champs or not, there is one rite of spring they can’t seem to dodge.
When the Capitals host the Hurricanes tonight, Ovechkin and Backstrom will be skating in their 12th career Game 7 together — the most by any two teammates in NHL history.
“There’s pressure on both teams,” Ovechkin said, “but it’s a good chance for us to beat them at home.”
The way Ovechkin and Backstrom are producing this spring, the Capitals would be missing a tremendous opportunity if they don’t pull this off.
“They’ve carried us for the most part,” coach Todd Reirden said Tuesday.
While the Capitals need more from 20-goal scorers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana —neither has scored this series — Ovechkin and Backstrom have arguably been playing some of the best playoff hockey of their careers.
Sure, there was more at stake last May and June, but as far as an individual series, Round 1 against Carolina has been vintage Ovechkin and Backstrom.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation without them,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “In terms of play, Ovi’s right at the top right now in every area. He’s playing hard, and it’s on us to follow him now and play our best game.”
Ovechkin has four goals and eight points in six games, but he’s also set the tone with speed and physicality. In Washington’s 6-0 Game 5 win, Ovechkin had a goal, two primary assists and a game-high 11 hits — his highest hit total in a postseason game decided in regulation.
“He’s the best goal scorer maybe in the entire history of the game and for him to play physical like that, he affects guys,” center Nic Dowd said. “You saw it in Game 5. It’s his play away from the puck as well as the ability to score big-time goals that makes him such an elite player.”
It’s easy to forget that Ovechkin, 33, is a 14-year veteran with more than 1,000 games on his NHL odometer. Seemingly, at some point, he will slow down. This spring isn’t that point, and with veteran T.J. Oshie out indefinitely, both Ovechkin and Backstrom are doing much of the heavy lifting.
Backstrom, 31, has already matched his personal best with five goals in a single series — a mark he previously reached in 2010.
“They’re superstars in the league doing superstar stuff,” forward Devante Smith-Pelly said.
To make another deep postseason run this year, the Capitals will need more from down the depth chart. But if that opportunity does come up in the weeks ahead, it will be thanks largely to Ovechkin and Backstrom’s first-round contributions.
“They’ve been outstanding,” Holtby said. “They’ve been the consistency to our group, and that’s why they’re our leaders.”