Nicklas Backstrom is known as one of the NHL's best playmakers and one of the reasons for Alex Ovechkin's success. But Backstrom scored a career-high 33 goals during the regular season, and he's kept firing away in the first few days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Backstrom and Ovechkin reversed roles in Washington's first two playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens, with Backstrom serving as the gunner and Ovi as the setup man. Backstrom had one of Washington's two goals in Game 1, then broke out in Game 2 with a hat trick, including the winner 31 seconds into overtime, as the Caps rallied for a 6-5 series-tying victory.
Backstrom is tied for third place in the postseason scoring race with 5 points through five days of action, but is the only player to score 4 goals.
Five up -- Five other players who were hot during the first week of the playoffs:
Sidney Crosby -- Crosby leads all players with 7 points and has been the best player on the ice in Pittsburgh's series against Ottawa. He set up the winning goal in Game 2 after a brilliant effort in Ottawa's zone, then scored the winner in Game 3. If anything, he's playing better than he did last spring.
Craig Anderson -- It's hard to think of a better performance by a goaltender in a playoff game than Anderson had Sunday -- he stopped all 51 shots he faced (50 in regulation) as Colorado beat San Jose 1-0 in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead. Through three games, Anderson has stopped 121 of 129 shots and has the Avs halfway to what would be a stunning upset.
Andrei Kostitsyn -- Kostitsyn nearly shot the Montreal Canadiens into a two-game lead against Washington when his hat trick helped the Habs build a 4-1 advantage late in the second period. Overall, he has 3 goals and 5 points in two games.
Henrik Zetterberg -- Zetterberg put his stamp on Detroit's series against Phoenix with a hat trick in the Wings' Game 2 win, then added a pair of assists in Game 3. He and his linemates have been dangerous every time they've been on the ice.
Pekka Rinne -- Rinne helped Nashville steal Game 1 against Chicago with a 25-save performance, then gave the Predators a chance to win Game 2 by stopping 31 of 33 saves in a 2-0 loss. The Hawks risk a series upset if they can't find ways to get more pucks past the 6-foot-5 goaltender.
Five down -- Five players who weren't:
Jose Theodore -- Two shots, no saves. That was Theodore's night on Saturday, when Washington coach Bruce Boudreau hooked him in the first period. The Caps' defense hasn't been very good, but Theodore has to pick up his team when it's not.
Jeff Carter -- Philadelphia's leading goal-scorer during the regular season has struggled through three games against New Jersey. He has no goals, no points and is minus-3, having seen Martin Brodeur stop all 12 of his shots on goal.
Dan Cleary -- Cleary has been a big contributor to the Wings in the last couple of springs, but not so far this season. He hasn't had a point in three games and is minus-3.
Evgeni Nabokov -- Ironically, Nabokov played his worst hockey in the game San Jose won -- a 6-5 overtime win in Game 2 in which he stopped just 17 of 22 shots. He's allowed eight goals on just 69 shots in three games, two of them wins by Colorado.
Jordan Staal -- While Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (3 goals, 4 points) have given Pittsburgh production up the middle, Staal has had a tough time so far. He hasn't put up a goal or a point and is minus-3 in three games against Ottawa,
Injuries, news and notes
Out -- Ottawa's hopes took another hit last week when forward Milan Michalek was shut down for the season. He'll need knee surgery. The Senators are already without Alex Kovalev, who tore a knee ligament in the final week of the regular season and is done. ... San Jose forward Dany Heatley sat out Sunday's game at Colorado for unspecified reasons. ... Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist missed Sunday's game at Colorado with an upper-body injury sustained Friday. The Predators hope he'll be ready for Tuesday night. ... Phoenix lost center Vernon Fiddler with an upper-body injury on Friday and saw captain Shane Doan leave Sunday's game with an upper-body injury. ... Buffalo lost forward Thomas Vanek on Saturday with a leg injury; he's not expected to play Monday at Boston. Forward Jochen Hecht missed the Sabres' first two games with a finger injury. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Jordan Leopold missed Sunday's game with a concussion sustained Friday and may not play again in the first round. Goalie Brent Johnson missed Games 2 and 3 with the flu. ... Colorado center Kevin Porter missed Sunday's game with an upper-body injury; his replacement, Ryan Stoa, left in the second period with a lower-body injury. The Avs also lost forward Milan Hedjuk with an upper-body injury during the game.
Returning -- Phoenix got center Robert Lang back on Sunday after he missed six weeks with a lower-body injury. ... Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz has played in the first three games against Ottawa after missing the last eight days of the regular season with a shoulder injury. ... Montreal forward Glen Metropolit, expected to miss the Canadiens' first-round series, could play against Washington this week.
Brian Campbell (broken collarbone) is skating but not yet ready to play. ... Colorado center Peter Mueller (concussion) is still not skating yet and is nowhere near returning. He was injured on April 4.
The week ahead -- There can be as many as 56 first-round games. After all eight series were tied 1-1 through two games, don't be surprised if we get close to that figure.
Games to watch
Vancouver at Los Angeles (April 19) -- Staples Center figures to be rocking as the Kings stake the ice against the Canucks for their first home playoff game since the spring of 2002.
Chicago at Nashville (April 20) -- The last series to start changes venues, with the Predators playing their first home playoff game since 2008 after splitting two games in Chicago.
San Jose at Colorado (April 20) -- Colorado's Craig Anderson has seen 102 shots in the past two games, including 51 in Sunday's 1-0 win. The Sharks have to find a way to get some past him or risk going home down 3-1 in the series.
New Jersey at Philadelphia (April 20) -- The Devils have dropped six of eight games to the Flyers this season and are 0-4 at the Wachovia Center -- including Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss.
Detroit at Phoenix (April 22) -- The Coyotes will be going home no worse than even in the series even if they lose Tuesday -- and if they win, the 'Yotes will have a chance to win only the third playoff series in franchise history