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Backstrom scores in return, Capitals top Hurricanes

by Katie Brown

WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom didn't waste any time in his first game back from injury.

Backstrom had a goal and two assists in his season debut for the Washington Capitals, a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Saturday. The center missed the first three games after having hip surgery May 27.

"That's how special he is," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When you watch a guy who hasn't played any exhibition games and he comes into a National Hockey League game against a fast team and he looks like he never missed a beat, you realize how good he is and what he does for our team once he's back in the lineup. It looked pretty easy for him."

T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson scored for Washington (3-1-0). Jeff Skinner scored for Carolina (1-4-0).

"It's what they say, good things happen when you throw the puck to the net," Backstrom said. "We had some good chances, especially in the second period as well. We kept on going. We should have been up a couple more goals after the second but it's tough out there."

Backstrom replaced Andre Burakovsky on the second line and was split from Ovechkin, his usual linemate. Trotz said wanted to tread carefully with Backstrom, considering the serious nature of his surgery, but he surpassed all expectations while playing 15:21.

"Our team runs off Nick when we're at our best," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "He covers up so many mistakes that we make by just how good, how smart he is, how many key minutes he eats up. Really, you can't put a value on a guy like him."

Carolina was the third team on this four-game Washington homestand to have played the night before (New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks). The San Jose Sharks, who defeated the Capitals 5-0 on Tuesday, are the only team Washington has played this season that did not play the previous night.

Holtby made 18 saves in his fourth consecutive start. Cam Ward made 30 saves for Carolina, who won 5-3 at the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

"I think we were disappointed we didn't have more of a pushback [after the first period]," Skinner said. "We had some opportunities, obviously, on the power play, 5-on-3; it would be nice to get one there on the road on a back-to-back that would really help. [Ward] kept us in there for the whole game and we weren't able to generate much for him."

Oshie scored on the power play to make it 1-0 at 15:57 of the first period. He one-timed a Backstrom pass from the top of the right circle over Ward's glove. Oshie has four points in his past two games, and Backstrom's assist was his first point of the season.

Washington outshot Carolina 17-5 in the first period. The Hurricanes were held without a shot on goal for 11:56 of the second period.

Backstrom scored his first regular-season goal since Feb. 19 at 1:38 of the third period for a 2-0 lead. Alone on the half-wall, his shot deflected off the skate of Carolina defenseman John-Michael Liles.

"I was a little bit lucky, I think, to be honest with you," Backstrom said. "I was coming into this game with the attitude just to win and that's all I was thinking about. I think we did a good job."

Skinner took advantage of an odd-man break at 7:45 of the third period, scoring his first goal of the season to make it 2-1.

"We didn't have the puck very much so we defended, defended, defended, and we were on our heels," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. "I thought we had a hard time moving the puck tonight, and when you have a hard time moving the puck, sometimes guys don't want the puck, and you have to want the puck. You have to work to get open and you have to execute."

Carlson scored his second goal of the season on the power play to make it 3-1 at 9:43 of the third. Backstrom passed to Carlson, who scored with a slap shot from the point; the defenseman leads the Capitals with five points.

Ovechkin scored an unassisted goal with 3:49 left to make it 4-1. Washington went 2-for-2 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.

"The last two games are definitely a step in the right direction," Oshie said. "I think a lot of the offense is coming from the smart, simple plays on the back half of the ice. The power play is doing great. I think we did a great job with [Evgeny Kuznetsov] there. Backstrom's one of the best, if not the best playmaker in the League."

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