BOSTON – He came back just in time to help the Washington Capitals save their season.
Now he's helped them get back into their first series of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs by scoring the game-winning goal in double-overtime to earn a road split against the Boston Bruins.
Nicklas Backstrom is a world-class talent who is still trying to find his form because he missed nearly three months due to a concussion. He made his presence felt at the most important time in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Saturday at TD Garden.
Backstrom's wrist shot from the left dot eluded Boston goaltender Tim Thomas 2:56 into the second extra session after the Bruins turned the puck over below the goal line and the Capitals prevailed, 2-1, to even the series up at one game apiece.
Game 3 is scheduled for Monday at Washington.
"It feels good," said Backstrom, who returned to play four games at the end of the regular season when the Capitals made their late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth. "But I don't really care who scores in the playoffs. We're a team and we work together and we do everything together. So it doesn't really matter."
Capitals coach Dale Hunter made a slight tweak to his lines, as he swapped out Jason Chimera to unite Marcus Johansson with Backstrom and Alexander Semin. That move paid off leading up to the winning goal and on the winning play. After Backstrom lost a faceoff at the left dot to Patrice Bergeron, Boston defenseman Andrew Ference decided to stick with Johansson and let his partner Johnny Boychuk play the puck up the wall.
Boychuk fanned on his clearing attempt and Johansson wound up with the puck below the Boston goal line. Johansson found an open Backstrom for the shot.
"Just to get more speed on that line there," Hunter said about the line change. "Chimera is fast, too. So it could be a race off there. [Backstrom] and [Johansson] know each other, being Swedish and stuff, pretty good. Just give them a different look. [Chimera], the thing about him he can play anywhere. He'll do anything for the team."
The defensive play that dominated Game 1 – a 1-0 Boston win – continued into Game 2, with no one finding the back of the net until Troy Brouwer turned a fortunate bounce into a goal with 2:03 remaining in the second period. Greg Zanon blocked Alexander Ovechkin's shot and then Brouwer stuffed in the loose puck before Zanon could clear it away.
Boston tied the game 12:13 into the third period. Benoit Pouliot drove the net and beat Washington goaltender Braden Holtby before a backhand shot lit the lamp and Pouliot and Holtby collided.
Pouliot's nose for the net on that goal, and the play of his line with Brian Rolston and Chris Kelly throughout the first two games has set an example that Boston coach Claude Julien says he wants his more-skilled forwards to follow. In Game 1, Kelly scored the lone goal, so the Bruins have received no production from their top two lines.
"They are and so is our fourth line," Julien said about his bottom six forward. "They're putting pucks at the net and they're going to the net. Some of the other guys or lines are trying to be a little too cute. And at the end of it it ends up with nothing, nothing to show for. So we need to be a little bit more of a gritty team, determined to go to the dirty areas, win the battles. Because as you can see, after two games, that's what it's going to be. It's going to be a matter of winning battles."
The Bruins won last year's Stanley Cup championship as much with their physicality as their skill. Boston's approach to the game hasn't changed, so they offer a particularly stiff test for a player who missed 40 games with a head injury. Backstrom, however is fighting through. He landed four shots on net, including his goal, and didn't let a Thomas blocker-punch to the head late in the third period quell his desire to get to the net.
"Yeah, I got a lot of things to my head in this game. That's how it is in the playoffs," Backstrom said. "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, so that's how it's going to be in the playoffs and there's a lot of great battles out there tonight."