Washington center Nicklas Backstrom, top, celebrates with Alex Ovechkin (8) and John Carlson after Ovechkin’s first-period goal in Game 5 on Saturday night. Backstrom got an assist on the play. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

In the oft-televised commercial this time of year, Nicklas Backstrom is sitting at his dressing room stall at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility when Lord Stanley suddenly materializes. He then offers to share a secret with Backstrom.

“How to win the Stanley Cup?” Backstrom asks him.

The rest is a typical Geico commercial in which Lord Stanley suggests Backstrom switch to that car insurance. Lord Stanley disappears with his cup of tea, and Backstrom is left sitting at his stall, where he resumes taping the blade of his stick. That Backstrom asks this mystical figure the key to winning underscores that it has eluded the Capitals, with Backstrom especially a veteran of playoff disappointments.

But in real life, Backstrom thinks he knows how to win the Stanley Cup.

“I think playoffs is all about how you play as a team, and obviously you want to be able to produce,” Backstrom said. “But at the same time, I think, I want to be responsible in the defensive zone as well and make sure we do good there, even if we are an offensive line. It’s important to play defense.”

Penguins center Sidney Crosby, left, with Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, has been held to two assists in the series against Washington. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Backstrom has a reputation for being an elite distributor, making the pass before so many of Alex Ovechkin’s goals. But his teammates and coach would argue that the center’s defensive game is underappreciated. In the postseason, it has been showcased. He has drawn the most challenging assignments, first with Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux and now with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

Crosby has been held to just two assists in this Eastern Conference semifinal series, and the credit mostly goes to Backstrom and Washington’s top defensive pair of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen. That Crosby has been quiet is an encouraging sign for a Capitals team hoping to again stave off elimination against the Penguins in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“With Backy, it’s sort of that competitive edge,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “I think Backy quietly has gotten really, really hard to play against.”

Trotz’s impromptu soapbox sessions throughout the season almost exclusively revolved around Backstrom. Trotz would lobby for him to be named an all-star and to receive Selke Trophy consideration as a top two-way forward, “the best two-way forward” Trotz said he has ever coached.

Despite what the volume of commercials would have you believe, Backstrom shies away from attention, the complementary understated center to the thunderous Ovechkin. Trotz’s campaigning resulted in a first career all-star nod for Backstrom, but he again wasn’t a Selke Trophy finalist. Among forwards who played at least 750 minutes, Backstrom was first this season in score-adjusted goals against per 60 minutes (1.34) at even strength, according to war-on-ice.com. He averaged 25.36 shots against per 60 minutes, score adjusted at five-on-five, and that’s with him typically being pitted against an opponent’s top center.

Philadelphia’s Giroux had just one assist against the Capitals in the teams’ six-game first-round series. Crosby hasn’t fared much better. After he had three goals and five assists in Pittsburgh’s five games against the New York Rangers, he has two points against Washington, one of which came on the power play. When Trotz shuffled the forward lines before Game 5, moving Evgeny Kuznetsov to center a top line of Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, he kept Backstrom matched up against Crosby.

“He’s just really smart on both ends of the ice,” Crosby said. “He’s able to distribute the puck. He can slow the play down if he needs to. He’s always in around the net, so he can make a lot of plays around there. But, yeah, I think his hockey sense is so good at both ends of the ice. You have to be ready to work yourself at both ends when you’re going against him.”

Said Trotz: “Everybody thinks he’s just a cerebral player, but he is quietly tough and hard to play against. He’s got strength on the puck. He keeps plays alive. . . . With his vision and his ability to do things with the puck and especially with strength on the puck, it can be pretty effective.”

Backstrom’s playoff production often has been criticized after the Capitals’ early postseason exits. He had just two points in Washington’s second-round series against the Rangers last year, and an offseason hip surgery helped explain the lack of scoring. In 11 playoff games this year, he already has more points than he did in 14 last season.

But Backstrom said it was never his own lack of production that would weigh on him when the summer would start in May instead of in June. What nagged at him instead was a version of the question he asked in the Geico commercial: How could the Capitals win the Stanley Cup? Backstrom has embraced his role in the answer.

“I think we talked about it all year, how important defense is in the playoffs, and you have to play good defensively to be able to win hockey games,” Backstrom said. “It doesn’t matter who you play against, You’ve got to try to do your best and shut them down.”