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Backstrom game-time decision for Capitals in Game 1 against Lightning

Center recovering from injured right hand, didn't take part in morning skate

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Nicklas Backstrom will be a game-time decision for the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), coach Barry Trotz said.

The 30-year-old center is recovering from a right-hand injury that kept him out of the series-clinching 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday. Backstrom blocked a shot off that hand from Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz in Game 5 on Saturday.

Backstrom did not take part in the morning skate for the Capitals. Lars Eller remained in his place at center on the second line between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie.

Trotz said if Backstrom says he's ready and the medical staff gives the OK, he will play.

"Any time a top player and their staff say he's ready to go, I don't think there's a coach in the National Hockey League that's not putting a top player like Nick Backstrom in the lineup," Trotz said.

If Backstrom isn't able to play, captain Alex Ovechkin said the Capitals will need to show the same commitment they had in Game 6 in Pittsburgh.

"Everybody knows [Backstrom] is our top guy, but you can see the effort that we had against Pittsburgh and I'm pretty sure we're going to be fine," Ovechkin said.

Forward Andre Burakovsky, who has been recovering from an upper-body injury that has sidelined him since Game 2 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, also will be a game-time decision. Burakovsky was on the ice for the morning skate, at left wing on the third line with Chandler Stephenson at center and Brett Connolly at right wing.

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

Backstrom skated before Washington's optional practice Thursday, working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, passing the puck and doing a little shooting. That was the first time he'd been on the ice since he was injured.

Backstrom's 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are third on the Capitals behind Ovechkin (15 points) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14). Backstrom had five points (one goal, four assists) in the second round.

Getting him back for Game 1 would be a boost for Washington. He's their best two-way center and would likely be matched against Tampa Bay's top line of center Steven Stamkos and wings J.T. Miller and Nikita Kucherov. If Backstrom is unable to play in the opener, the line of Vrana, Eller and Oshie would likely get the assignment.

"I played a lot against them too when I was in Montreal, so you're kind of used to that matchup," Eller said. "They possess a lot of ability up front, so you've got to really try to take their time and space away."

Burakovsky required minor surgery after being injured on a hit by Boone Jenner. The 23-year-old practiced with the Capitals the past two days. He wore a non-contact jersey Wednesday before switching to a regular jersey Thursday.

"When the day comes when I'm going to play, I will definitely have fresh legs," Burakovsky said. "I've been in this situation before and I've been coming back with really fresh legs because I only skated for a little while."

It was the second time this season Burakovsky was injured and needed surgery. He missed 19 games from Oct. 26-Dec. 6 after having surgery to repair a fractured left thumb. He had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 56 regular-season games and no points in two playoff games.

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