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Backstrom proves perfect sidekick for Ovechkin

Friday, 04.11.2008 / 11:03 AM / 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


The chemistry between Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin creates a perfect fit in Washington's top line. Backstrom highlight video
ARLINGTON, Va. – The chemistry between Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov is as simple as the equation that makes the Washington Capitals' top line a perfect fit.

"Viktor is a guy that goes into the corners and comes out with the puck, then he gets it to Nicky, who passes it to Alex," Capitals defenseman Mike Green summarized. "Those three, as a combo, when they have been together, they have been outstanding."

The easy assumption would be that Ovechkin is so individually talented he makes goals happen for himself. That's partly true, but like any other superstar, Ovechkin needs a center to get him the puck, and a big, strong winger on the other side to draw some defensive attention of his own.

In Backstrom and Kozlov, Ovechkin has just what he needs.

"Backs is an unbelievable player, and I think he has to win Rookie of the Year," Ovechkin said. "And what can I say about Kozy? Professor. You see him, he dresses like a professor. He knows everything, especially in hockey. He's the know-it-all of the line."

Backstrom, though, is the glue -- so much so that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is, like Ovechkin, stumping for the young Swede to be the Calder Trophy winner this year as the NHL's best rookie.

Backstrom led all rookies with 55 assists and finished three points behind rookie scoring leader Patrick Kane with 69 points. Backstrom also played 19 minutes a game and was a plus-13. Four of his 14 goals were game-winners and three came on the power play.

"We talk about how great Alex is and there is no doubt he is in the top couple of players on the planet, but lately I'm reading and hearing a lot of stuff saying it's negating Nicky's shot at Rookie of the Year because he is playing with Alex," Boudreau said. "I sort of go to the opposite end. There are not too many first-year players playing on the No. 1 line, the kind of minutes he is, with the kind of plus-minus (he has) and helping Alex be the player he's been.

"Nick has been tremendous. For a first-year guy to step up in the pressure situations to do what he has done, he should be given way more serious consideration than some people are giving him."

The only reason Backstrom perhaps isn't getting enough attention in a super Calder Trophy race is because Ovechkin sort of trumps all in Washington.

Backstrom is more reserved, more comfortable away from the camera, while Ovechkin loves the spotlight. However, Backstrom believes their kinship -- on and off the ice -- works well because they actually are similar people.

They're both young – Backstrom is 20, Ovechkin, 22 – and they both grew up learning the European style, in Sweden and Russia, respectively. Kozlov fits right in because he also is a European, although he's 33 -- and a 13-year veteran.

"We're pretty much the same person," Backstrom said, "only (Ovechkin)'s louder than me."

Added Boudreau: "It's always surprising when it goes as well as it has. You think it has the potential, but you never know. It's still in the growing stages, but the only one I can compare it to is Darryl Sittler and Lanny MacDonald had a tremendous relationship off the ice (in Toronto), and it showed when they were playing."

Backstrom certainly needed a friend March 9 when he scored into his own goal, providing Pittsburgh the game-winner in the Penguins' 4-2 win in Washington. It appeared Backstrom shot the puck into his own net without reason, but Ovechkin was there to defend his buddy then, and he still is now.

"It happens," Ovechkin said. "It was not his mistake. It was all five guys on the ice's mistake. But he's OK. He's doing fine. He's OK. Everybody told him, 'It's OK, don't worry about it.' It happens and it's OK."

While Backstrom admitted the own-goal was embarrassing and "stupid of me," it's now water under the bridge. The Capitals scored 53 seconds into their next game -- a goal by Kozlov, assisted by Backstrom -- and went on to win 11 of their final 12 games.

They're entering the playoffs as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference.

"You just go like this (snaps fingers), 'Next game, I'm going to be better,' and we scored in 53 seconds so it made me feel good again," Backstrom said. "It's forgotten. I think everybody on this team has forgotten about it. We have to start from zero now anyway. It's going to be tough, and it's going to be a good series."
 
Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.



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