It wasn’t pretty, but the Capitals came away with a 3-2 shootout win over Montreal on Saturday night and tightened their grip on a playoff spot with two more points combined with Buffalo’s loss to Toronto.
You can read more about the overall contest, including the Capitals’ displeasure with coughing up a two-goal lead and Michal Neuvirth’s night, in my story for the hard-copy edition.
The highlight of the night, however, was Nicklas Backstrom’s highly anticipated return to the Washington lineup after missing 40 games with a concussion.
The 24-year-old Swede received a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd and players tapped their sticks on the ice as he worked through his warmup routine. Then, before the team headed out for the start of the game, his teammates started some good-natured chirping.
“It was pretty cool, actually,” Brooks Laich said. “You guys weren’t in here to see it, but before we went on the ice before warmup and then especially before the game, there was a lot, a lot of chatter building up about 30, 40 seconds before we were going on the ice. Everyone kind of left with a smile on their face, and it translated into a good first period.”
Said Dennis Wideman: “I think it was a big lift for us. I thought getting Nicky back, everybody loves having him around, loves having him in the room. He’s a great team guy. It gave us a lift for the first little bit and then we lost it.”
Backstrom finished with 19 minutes 40 seconds of ice time along with two shots on goal, skating as a member of the first line. He also won 12 of 18 faceoffs and finished as with minus-1 rating.
Although he looked at ease in the first period, Backstrom admitted that he began to tire as the contest progressed. But all in all, it was a successful first game back for the center.
“It’s a lot of pressure on yourself,” Backstrom said. “Just trying to focus on playing simple in the beginning and it was a fun game to play. Lot of energy right from the get-go. That’s good.”
More significant than the stats for Backstrom, was that he absorbed a big hit from Montreal’s Mike Blunden in the second period without any negative effects.
“It’s a relief, actually,” Backstrom said of being hit again by an opponent. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this game and if I’m ready or not. Couldn’t really sleep before the game. So it’s a little back and forth. But I tell you right now I made the right decision. I was happy to be back and I felt pretty good – even if I was a little rusty.”
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