For nearly three months this season as their top center missed 40 games with a concussion, the Capitals talked about the team they could be with a healthy Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup.
In Game 2 against the Bruins Saturday night, Backstrom came through and delivered the game winner 2 minutes and 56 seconds into double overtime to seal a critical 2-1 win that sends the series back to Washington all evened up.
“I was just trying to get it on net, I think the puck was wobbling a little bit. I don’t if it changes direction or whatever but it was nice to see it go in. I was kind of tired there,” Backstrom said. “It’s going to be like this every game, I think. Not a lot of chances five against five; you’ve got to make sure when you get the chances you’ve got to put them in.”
The play began with an offensive-zone faceoff loss by Marcus Johansson, but the second-year pivot wound up with the puck in the corner and found Backstrom alone atop the left circle. Backstrom’s wrister beat Tim Thomas through a screen and resulted in the Capitals mobbing their 24-year-old Swedish center.
“I don’t know how I got the puck, really,” Johansson said. “I think I had three guys around me and I just wanted to get it out to him. He got the shot off and it was a pretty big relief.”
In addition to the goal, Backstrom finished with four shots on goal, one hit, three blocked shots and an 11-for19 success rate in the faceoff circle in 30:03 of ice time.
The numbers didn’t tell the whole story of how strong Backstrom appeared in just his sixth game back in the lineup. Early on, he was at his puck-handling best as he danced through the Bruins to enter the zone and set up Washington’s power play.
As the contest grew tighter at even strength, he drove toward the Boston net and didn’t shy away from high-traffic areas or the high levels of contact that come with traversing them.
“I think Nicky’s getting better,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It just doesn’t happen [that] you’re in shape after 40 games missing. But he’s getting better every game and you see he’s getting better and he’s getting more ice. He’s been strong.
“He’s going to the net, too, and battling for loose pucks,” Hunter added. “They’re hitting him just like everybody else is getting hit. It’s part of the game. It’s playoff hockey. Everybody’s going to get hit and it’s a physical game out there.”
The most notable occasion came with 2:26 remaining in the third period, when Backstrom crashed the net in search of a rebound at Thomas’ feet. The veteran netminder took exception to the poke at his pads and just as the Bruins’ David Krejci mugged Backstrom from behind, Thomas swung his blocker into the center’s face. It’s a play that you can view further below in its entirety or simply enjoy in animated-gif awesomeness. (via Japers’ Rink)
“I was trying to put the puck in the net. The puck was loose in front of there and maybe thought I was hitting his pads for no reason. I don’t know. It happens. It’s playoffs,” said Backstrom, who was then asked if he had the last laugh by netting the game winner. “Well, today I got the last laugh.
“I got a lot of things to my head this game but that’s how it is in playoffs,” Backstrom said. “I’m fine with it. Obviously you want to go to the net and see if you can score goals; they want to protect the net so that’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs. Lot of great battles out there tonight.”
As promised, here’s the full clip of the play that resulted in Thomas’ blocker in Backstrom’s face.