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On April 15, 2021, Washington Capitals Center Nicklas Backstrom played in his 1,000th regular season game as a member of the team. While Stanley Cup Playoff games do not count in that number, Backstrom has been a part of many memorable games in the team’s recent history. In this Retro Recap, NoVa Caps takes a look back at one such game from over a decade ago, on April 17, 2010.
The Capitals ended the 2009-10 regular season with the best record in the NHL, the winners of the Southeast Division (now defunct), the best team in the Eastern Conference, and a then-franchise record 54 victories and 121 points to capture the President’s Trophy. In first round of the postseason, they were matched against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, who finished the regular season with a 39-33-10 record. The Habs took Game 1 by a 3-2 score in overtime, setting up a Game 2 showdown two nights later at the Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena). This would prove to be a night to remember for Backstrom and the Caps.
The Canadiens came out swinging early in the opening frame on a goal by Brian Gionta at the minute mark of the first. The team would take a 2-0 lead just under the 8:00 mark when Andrei Kostitsyn scored his first of the playoffs unassisted; this goal on Montreal’s second shot of the game prompted Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to pull starter Jose Theodore in favor of youngster Semyon Varlamov. The Caps answered just under three minutes later on a goal by forward Eric Fehr, who scored his first of the postseason on an assist from Tomas Fleischmann. The period would go uneventful for the rest of the way, with neither team seeing a power play opportunity.
Unlike the first period, the period opened not with scoring, but with fisticuffs, as Capitals defenseman Tom Poti and Montreal forward Scott Gomez dropped the gloves. Just under seven minutes later, Kostitsyn scored his second of the game on assists from Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec to put the visitors ahead 3-1. At the 17:44 mark Kostitsyn scored his third of the night on the power play to complete the hat trick, on assists from Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek. The Canadiens now led 4-1 and it appeared as though the Caps would face an uphill climb to grab the lead. However, Backstrom would score his first of the game and second of the series to cut the Habs’ lead in half, on assists from Trade Deadline acquisition Joe Corvo and Alex Ovechkin. Cammalleri would be sent to the sin bin for slashing at the 19:39 mark, putting the Caps on a late power play as the second frame winded down.
While the Capitals failed to score on the penalty to the Canadiens, Ovechkin would cut the Caps’ deficit to one just two minutes and 56 seconds into the final frame of regulation, scoring his first of the 2010 playoffs on assists from Matt Bradley and John Carlson to make the game, 4-3. Capitals right wing Alexander Semin would be called for tripping just over two minutes later, putting Montreal on a man-advantage. The Habs failed to convert and just over five minutes after the penalty was assessed to Semin, Backstrom potted his second of the game to tie the game at 4-4, on assists from Ovechkin and defenseman Jeff Schultz. The team would get a power play opportunity to take the lead at the 11:27 mark, as Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill was called for interference, however, the Caps failed to capitalize. Just minutes later, Tomas Plekanec scored his second of the series to give the Canadiens the 5-4 lead. With under two minutes remaining in regulation, Carlson (then only 20-years old and fresh off a World Junior Championship Gold Medal a few months earlier) scored his first career playoff goal to tie the game at 18:39 on assists from Backstrom and Ovechkin. The goal sent the game to overtime, following a 4-1 deficit that seemed insurmountable earlier in the night.
The overtime period took less than a minute to be decided, as Backstrom scored his third goal of the night to complete the hat trick and tie the series at 1-1, at the 0:31 mark. For his efforts, Backstrom was named the First Star of the Game for his four-point night.
The Capitals would go on to take a 3-1 series lead before falling in seven games in heartbreaking fashion, stymied by the excellent play of then-Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The Canadiens would advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would fall in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup runners-up, Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps, meanwhile, would have to wait another eight years before finally cracking through and winning the Stanley Cup, following a regular season that ended in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the playoffs.
By Michael Fleetwood