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X-Factor: Backstrom at center of Capitals success

by Corey Masisak /

For all of the criticism Alex Ovechkin received during the previous two seasons and at the start of this one, his good friend and usual Washington Capitals linemate Nicklas Backstrom also saw his offensive production slip.


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It dipped dramatically in 2010-11 and was coming back toward previous levels last season before an elbow to the head left Backstrom with a concussion and sidelined him for nearly half a season.

Ovechkin's renaissance during the second half of 2012-13 has been one of the top storylines in the NHL, and he may earn another MVP trophy because of it. Yet, when the Hart Trophy candidacy of Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby is mentioned, the "other teammates are too good" excuse to not vote for them is often floated.

That is showing some pretty serious disrespect to Backstrom. Though Ovechkin has led the Capitals back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a slow start, Backstrom is not exactly a passenger. In fact, at one point this season Washington coach Adam Oates told reporters, "[Backstrom] drives the bus for us."

The numbers are there for everyone to see, but they don't get mentioned nearly as much as Ovechkin's. Backstrom finished the season with 40 assists, third in the League. He had 27 after March began, more than any member of the New York Rangers had for the season.

Ovechkin can be the emotional leader on the ice with big hits and important goals, but Backstrom is so important as the player who helps drive puck possession for the top line and for his play at both ends of the ice.

Backstrom has been a consistent playoff performer in most postseasons for the Capitals, which is not something many players on the team have been able to say during the past five years. The one outlier on his postseason resume was 2010-11, when he was playing with a broken bone in his hand.

He will be the best center on the ice in his team's first-round matchup against the Rangers. If the Capitals win, there could be more duels with elite pivots Patrice Bergeron and Crosby that await. If Backstrom outplays those headliners, maybe it will be his turn to earn more attention for the outstanding work he has done in 2012-13.


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