No matter how many scoring chances Nicklas Backstrom had in the playoffs or where they came from, the Capitals’ top line center couldn’t manage to connect. Pucks were in his feet, shots went off the mark and, in one case, Tampa Bay’s Eric Brewer managed to get a stick on a puck seemingly destined for an open net in Game 1 of the semifinals.
There may have been no player more individually frustrated this postseason than Backstrom, who finished with two assists in nine games. It was a seemingly inexplicable drought for the Capitals’ $6.7 million top-line center, who, according to all those who were asked on Thursday -- including Backstrom himself -- wasn’t playing with any injury.
“Nicky wasn’t [injured] in the playoffs, I don’t believe,” General Manager George McPhee said. “He might have the garden-variety stuff, but nothing major.”
Backstrom maintained throughout the playoffs that he was healthy. On the day of Washington’s exit interviews, he was asked again if he was playing with pain. “No,” Backstrom said. “No pain.”
The Swede broke his thumb on Feb. 21 and played through the injury for nearly two weeks before missing five games, but said multiple times in the postseason that it wasn’t an issue. Late Thursday after the independent media members spoke to the players, the team’s Mike Vogel said that Backstrom had re-injured the thumb in the Rangers series.
Whether Backstrom was injured or not, it was clear he began to feel the pressure of being unable to contribute on the scoreboard. In the second round against the Lightning, Backstrom went 106 minutes and 13 seconds from Game 2 to Game 4 in which he didn’t register a shot on goal.
“I wasn’t as good as I should be, and I’m going to take full responsibility for that, and I just have to get better,” said Backstrom, who was asked how the slump impacted his confidence. “I think some days felt good, and it was just there around the net. That’s the thing that was bothering me, too. I was frustrated on myself, but obviously this is hockey and it goes up and down all the time, and of course it’s frustrating. I don’t know what else to say.”