Nicklas Backstrom passed on a chance for an empty-net goal Sunday, giving the tally to teammate Troy Brouwer instead. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

When a puck is making its way slowly toward an empty net, threatening to stop on the snow that has accumulated in the crease before it crosses the goal line, most players would swat the puck in the cage themselves. Nicklas Backstrom isn’t like most players.

Late in the Capitals game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday at Verizon Center (full disclosure: I was on a flight to California for the road trip during the game but this play was too neat to not write about after catching up on the replays), Troy Brouwer banked the puck off the boards to clear it out of the defensive zone.

As the puck caromed through the neutral zone and toward the empty net, Backstrom had raced in front of Toronto defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Morgan Rielly in pursuit.

But rather than tap the puck in himself for what would have been his 14th goal of the year, Backstrom simply shielded it from the Maple Leafs so that when it did cross the line to wrap up a 4-2 Capitals’ win it would also stand as Troy Brouwer’s 20th goal of the year.

“That was the best, most unselfish play I’ve ever seen in my entire hockey career and it just sums up – I’ve already tweeted it I’m so happy about it ,” Karl Alzner told reporters in Washington after the game. “It is the best move a person can do and that I’ve ever seen. That just sums up the type of person he is.”

Said Coach Adam Oates: “That’s a very unselfish thing. He’s smart enough he probably knows he didn’t have the assist on it either, so he doesn’t get a point. Which we all know that too. Just a fantastic thing. That’s who he is.”

This is the second time in Brouwer’s career that he has reached the 20-goal plateau. The only other year was back in 2009-10 as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.