'Pretty special feeling': Backstrom, Wilson return as Caps win

Erik Gustafsson tallies goal vs. Blue Jackets (0:49)

Erik Gustafsson scores the lone goal of the Capitals' win over the Blue Jackets. (0:49)

Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson made their season debuts and the Washington Capitals blanked 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 last year's Stanley Cup playoffs in May. Both underwent major procedures in the offseason -- Backstrom had hip resurfacing surgery and Wilson had ACL surgery.

"You can't ever take it for granted, playing in the NHL, the fans, and the roar when Nick and I came out," Wilson said, summing up the day. "It's a pretty special feeling."

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," said Backstrom, who skated on 18 shifts with 14:03 time on the ice. "Obviously, I missed this. Without knowing what my future is going to hold, it feels great."

Wilson was among many who lauded Backstrom's battle back.

"[Backstrom] has that demeanor that makes everyone around him better," Wilson said. "He's a guy that everyone around the room wants to play well for. He gets that buy-in from his teammates."

Darcy Kuemper continued his strong play between the pipes as he made 37 saves and held off the swarming Blue Jackets for his second shutout in five games. Kuemper's four shutouts lead the NHL this season.

Wilson finished with 14:10 time on the ice across 17 shifts, even turning down a fight -- a key element to his game -- during his return.

"You put in the work, everyone tells you that you're good to go, but it's different testing that at the NHL level," Wilson said. "I'm happy to get that one out of the way. It felt a little better than I thought, but it's definitely overwhelming when you get out there."

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.

Elvis Merzlikins made 18 saves for Columbus, who have dropped 10 of the past 12 games.

Washington's 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.