Nicklas Backstrom had just wrapped up a lengthy, on-ice workout one March morning in Montreal when he wiped his sweaty blond hair out of his eyes and muttered, "I can't take this anymore."

The Washington Capitals' top center would miss a fourth game that night with a broken left thumb. The extra skating sessions, combined with a sense of helplessness as he watched games from above in the press box, made Backstrom restless.

The 23-year-old Swede had never missed an NHL contest until the injury ended his streak of consecutive games played at 341.

"He called after sitting out the first game and told me, 'I hate sitting out. I want to play. I want to help my teammates,'" Backstrom's father, Anders, said in a recent phone interview. "That's just the way he is. He wants to do everything he can to lead Washington. He wants that pressure."

Backstrom may be one of the most soft-spoken players in Washington's dressing room, and he prefers to leave the spotlight open for his close friend and usual linemate Alex Ovechkin. But as the Capitals prepare to enter the Stanley Cup playoffs next week for a fourth consecutive season — they clinched the Eastern Conference top seed on Friday night — Backstrom has embraced his position within the foundation of the franchise in his own understated manner.