Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson made their season debuts and the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 on Sunday night.
It marked the first time Backstrom and Wilson took the ice at Capital One Arena since the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs in May. Both underwent major procedures in the offseason — Backstrom had hip resurfacing surgery and Wilson had ACL surgery.
“You know, after an injury, it’s a little bit different. You’re expecting your body to show up but you never really know. I tried to put in all the work I could, and it held up, we got through it,” Wilson said. “It felt better as the game went on. The guys battled for Nicky and I to get it done, and Kuemps played really well, and it’s nice to get the first one out of the way. But it was a really cool experience.”
Following nearly eight months of rehabilitation, both were cleared to make their long-awaited returns and were integrated quickly into the top six. Backstrom slotted in as the first-line center between Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary while Wilson played on the second-line right wing with Dylan Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both also got time on the power play, with Backstrom running the half-wall on the top unit and Wilson getting a look on the second unit.
“It meant the world, and obviously I missed this and with not knowing what my future was going to hold, just coming back and playing, it feels great,” Backstrom said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Darcy Kuemper continued his strong play between the pipes as he made 37 saves and held off the swarming Blue Jackets for his fourth shutout of the season and second in five games.
Despite the Capitals getting two of their stars back in the mix, the ice wasn’t exactly tilted in their favor, as Columbus, coming off a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, dominated in shots on goal and limited Washington’s chances at 5-on-5 and on the man advantage. However, Erik Gustafsson’s goal just 2:43 minutes into the game secured the win for the Capitals.
“Good teams can find a way (to win) in a lot of different ways. Tonight was one of them,” Kuemper said.
Elvis Merzlikins made 18 saves for Columbus, who have now dropped 10 of the last 12 games.
“That’s a game you want to win so badly, I think. That was one of the games for 60 minutes we put it all together … that’s the unfortunate part,” Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Peeke said. “Sometimes you got to tip your cap to the goalie, and we just got to take what the game gave us and move on from that.”
NOTES: Gustafsson scored his seventh goal of the season, all of them in the last 11 games. … Garnet Hathaway and Gavin Bayreuther dropped the gloves in the first period … Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch for the first time in his Capitals tenure, as he and Nicolas Aube-Kubel sat out with Backstrom and Wilson returning.
Blue Jackets: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Capitals: Visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday in the first half of a home-and-home series.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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