Backstrom capitalizes on chance
Someone as skillful as Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t acquire as much rust on his game during a long layoff that some players might.
The talented Capitals center was playing just his fifth game back Saturday after missing 40 because of a concussion and he proved to be the difference-maker.
Backstrom broke a 1-1 deadlock at 2:56 of double overtime, lifting the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over the Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at TD Garden.
The series is tied at a game apiece.
Marcus Johansson made a terrific centering pass to Backstrom, who beat Tim Thomas on a shot from the left circle.
“I got a great pass from Marcus there and I was just trying to get it on net,’’ said Backstrom. “I think the puck was wobbling a little bit so I don’t know if it changed direction or whatever. It was nice to see it go in because I was kind of tired there.’’
Backstrom said the tally was sweeter because of how long he had to sit out and recover from the head injury.
“Yes, absolutely, it feels good,’’ he said. “But I don’t really care who scores in the playoffs. We’re a team and we work together and we do everything together. It was great to get this win.’’
Backstrom said the goal was a testament to the teamwork and communication to which the Capitals are committed. Johansson made a great play and Backstrom let him know he was open.
“I think he saw me and I called for [the puck],’’ said Backstrom with a laugh. “That was a great pass from him and I was just trying to get it on net and I was a little lucky it went in. The puck was wobbling a little bit. Whatever, it was nice to see it go in. It was a good forecheck by Marcus and he [made] a great pass. So, just close my eyes and shoot.’’
Backstrom didn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. He took a lot of punishment in front of the net, including a blocker to the face from Thomas.
“I got a lot of things to my head in this game,’’ said Backstrom with a shrug. “That’s how it is in the playoffs. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want to go to the net and see if you can score goals and they want to protect the net and that’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs. There were a lot of great battles out there.’’
Backstrom said the Capitals’ young goaltender - Braden Holtby, who had 43 saves - is a reason why the team is heading back to Washington tied in the series.
“He’s so calm back there,’’ said Backstrom. “It’s impressive to see, he’s 22, it’s very impressive to see him out there and he brings this calmness. He’s got such good confidence, too. If he keeps playing like this, we’re going to help him as much as we can and take care of our chances we get.’’
The Capitals had their second straight strong defensive game and Backstrom said he expects the entire series will be a battle for scoring opportunities.
“I think both teams are playing good defensively,’’ he said. “There aren’t a lot of chances out there. This is how it’s going to be. For the [media], maybe it’s boring but for us, it’s fun.’’
The Capitals appear willing to pay the price more than they have in the past.
“Everybody is sacrificing now, blocking shots,’’ said Backstrom. “We’ve got to take care of the defensive zone first and then hopefully, it will open up for scoring chances. That’s how we’ve been told and that’s how you win games, too.’’
Since coach Dale Hunter took over the reins in November, the Capitals all have bought into the new system.
“I think everybody is more committed now,’’ said Backstrom. “Everyone understands we need to play this way. We had more shots today, too, and that was a positive from our side. They’re setting up a game plan and we’re trying to follow it.’’
He said they won’t savor the victory for very long because they need to focus on Game 3 Monday night.
“It’s the playoffs and it’s emotional out there and it’s going to be like this every game,’’ he said. “There aren’t a lot of chances five against five. You’ve got to make sure that when you get the chances, you’ve got to put them in. Last game, it was a nice shot that ended the game and tonight, maybe we were a bit more luckier, but it’s 1-1 and we’re looking forward to going home.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.