“I’m very excited,” Backstrom said. “It’s going to be fun to play again. It’s a big game for us and we need all those points so I’m excited to be back in such an important game.”
Backstrom took part in line rushes during the morning skate, working on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.
While it remains to be seen how much ice time Backstrom will receive in his first game back and much will certainly be determined by how he feels over the course of the contest, Coach Dale Hunter said he isn’t worried too much about the center being able to handle a significant role.
“We need Nicky and his type of game, he does it easy because his mind’s so good at the hockey game. I’ll watch his minutes and see how he is,” Hunter said. “But he’s a special player; he’s got to play special minutes.”
Asked specifically about the reasoning behind starting Backstrom on the first line: “He’s always been there. We need him to play and he’s ready to go and we’ll put him with good players.”
One thing to note: Hunter has coached just one game this year with Backstrom, Ovechkin and Mike Green all in the lineup. That contest was a 3-1 win over Calgary on Jan. 3, the game Backstrom was injured in.
As the Capitals continue their push toward the playoffs in the final four games of the regular season, Backstrom’s return offers an immeasurable emotional lift.
“It’s a good day. A real good day,” Brooks Laich said. “It’s an exciting time. Certainly to have him back before playoffs is a huge boost to our team.”
Said Mike Green: “It’s exciting, he’s so [instrumental] to this team playing well, and with him being out, we definitely lost an element of our game that has hurt us. Now that he’s back we’re excited.”
The 24-year-old Swede has missed 40 games because of the concussion he suffered after being elbowed in the head on Jan. 3 by Rene Bourque, who is expected to be in the Canadiens lineup this evening.
Backstrom said he isn’t concerned about the presence of the player who single-handedly derailed his season.
“I don’t really care about that,” Backstrom said. “It happened. I’m not going to waste any energy on that.”
While Backstrom was unquestionably the Capitals’ best and most consistent player prior to the injury and his 42 points stood as the team-best for more than a month once he was out of the lineup, it’s likely he will need a few games to regain his old form.
That said, Hunter isn’t worried about Backstrom putting too much pressure on himself in the early stages of his return.
“He’ll know. He’s a smart guy,” Hunter said. “Some players try to do it all by themselves. He’s a passer; he’ll use his teammates and he’ll be fine.”
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