Should the big three that dominate the headlines in the scintillating Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry really be a big four? Nicklas Backstrom
has stated his case all season for inclusion into that elite group of Alex Ovechkin
, Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
He's at least got the coaches convinced.
"When you see him play every night and you see what he does power play-wise and what he does for his wingers, even with Ovechkin out of the lineup, you have seen him do some pretty amazing things," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
said of Backstrom, who finished the regular season with 33 goals and 101 points. "His talent, what he can do with the puck, the space he gets puts him up there in mention with the top players in the League without a doubt."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
, who has been calling Backstrom an elite player since roughly the middle of last season, had this to say in response to Bylsma's assertion that Backstrom is one of the best players in the NHL:
"Danny is a pretty smart guy and he knows. He played us seven times last year in the playoffs and two times in the regular season and (four) times this season, so after (13) games he's seen and knows what Nick can do."
"His talent, what he can do with the puck, the space he gets puts him up there in mention with the top players in the League without a doubt."
-- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma on the Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom
The argument can be made that the Capitals' postseason success rides as much on No. 19's thick shoulders as it does on No. 8's.
Backstrom is a durable 30-goal scorer and a 100-point guy who not only plays center to Ovechkin and Mike Knuble
, but is also an important penalty killer and a 50-50 faceoff threat. He's never missed a game in three NHL seasons and his numbers have gone up every time. Backstrom is also a point-per-game player in the playoffs (21 in 21).
The Caps feed off of Ovechkin's energy and enthusiasm, but quite often Ovechkin feeds off of Backstrom for his offense. Backstrom assisted on 24 of Ovechkin's 50 goals this season, and 18 were primary helpers. He assisted on 13 of his last 16 goals.
Turn it around and Ovechkin assisted on 15 of Backstrom's 33 goals.
These two stars go hand-in-hand and after three full NHL seasons it's apparent that Backstrom is as valuable to the Caps' on-ice product as Ovechkin.
He has to be throughout the spring if the Capitals want to accomplish their ultimate goal and skate off with the Stanley Cup.
"We all agree, especially the people in the Washington area, how good this guy is," Boudreau said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl