It’s the sublime passing skills and deft playmaking ability that have made Nicklas Backstrom stand out as an elite center in the NHL and one of the indispensable parts of the Capitals’ lineup since he entered the league in 2007. What some often forget, though, is that he doesn’t shy away from physical play, either.
In the second period of Game 4, it’s safe to guess that when Artem Anisimov chased Backstrom into the corner he didn’t know what would come next. Backstrom stopped short of the boards and with one shove, knocked Anisimov, who is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, to the ice to create more space for himself.
Anisimov’s “not a small guy, but he tossed him aside like he was just a paper weight,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s a good play to separate yourself from a guy because usually guys are not expecting to get hit when they’re coming to hit a guy. He’s done that a lot. You see him do that a lot. That’s why you don’t go near him in practice when he’s got the puck. So you try to stay off him.”
That physical nature is an unheralded part of Backstrom’s game, but closely resembles the style of his idol Peter Forsberg. Known for equal portions of grit and skill, Forsberg often used counter-hits just like the one Backstrom dished out — and sometimes, the recipient of those checks was Dale Hunter.
“Forsberg did it a few times to me,” the Capitals coach cracked, drawing laughs from reporters. “So I’d go in very slowly, when I’d go to hit him.”
Hunter said given Backstrom’s balance and strength on his skates, it’s no surprise the 24-year-old Swede opted to deter an oncoming hit with a reverse-shoulder move of his own. By taking Anisimov out of the play, Backstrom gave himself a few more seconds to send the puck along the end boards to Chimera and make his way toward the slot. Chimera waited for a passing lane and as the Rangers drifted away from Backstrom, the winger sent the puck back.
Backstrom finished with a wrist shot into the top left hand corner of the net that all star netminder Henrik Lundqvist had no chance of stopping.