Wel­come back: Back­strom lifts Caps to vic­tory

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN

The puck bounded off the boards, and for the first time this sea­son, Nick­las Back­strom was there to cor­ral it. He turned and fired from the half wall, watch­ing the puck slip be­tween Car­olina goal­tender Cam Ward’s legs for a goal.

This was the first game the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals have been at full strength, with their top cen­ter fi­nally back in the lineup af­ter miss­ing the first three games re­cov­er­ing from off­sea­son hip surgery. Back­strom made his pres­ence felt in the 4-1 win over the Hur­ri­canes, notch­ing two as­sists and scor­ing early in the third pe­riod in Wash­ing­ton’s third vic­tory of its four-game home­s­tand to open the sea­son.

“That’s how spe­cial he is, when you watch a guy who hasn’t played any ex­hi­bi­tion games, and he comes into the

Na­tional Hockey League in a fast game against a fast team, and he looked like he never missed a beat,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You re­al­ize how good he is once he’s back in the lineup and what he does for our lineup. It looked pretty easy for him.”

His third-pe­riod goal gave Wash­ing­ton a 2-0 lead. Hur­ri­canes cen­ter Jeff Skin­ner cut the deficit to one by bank­ing the puck in off goal­tender Braden Holtby on an odd-man rush. But then Back­strom fed de­fense­man John Carl­son at the point on a power play less than two min­utes later, and Carl­son’s strike re­stored a two-goal cush­ion.

Back­strom had notched his first points on T.J. Oshie’s pow­er­play goal in the first pe­riod. Alex Ovechkin’s third goal in three games, com­ing with less than four min­utes re­main­ing, was a nice piece of in­sur­ance.

“I was a lit­tle bit lucky, to be hon­est,” Back­strom said. “I was com­ing into this game with the at­ti­tude just to win. That’s all I was think­ing about. I mean, I think we did a great job. . . . But it was ob­vi­ously nice to be back on the ice here. It’s fun to prac­tice, but it’s ob­vi­ously nicer to play games.”

Back­strom had not yet been cleared for con­tact when the Cap­i­tals opened the sea­son a week ear­lier and had been stuck watch­ing the first three games. While he found the Com­cast Sport­sNet an­nounc­ing crew funny, he was ad­mit­tedly bored. Back­strom didn’t miss a game last sea­son, fin­ish­ing with an NHL-lead­ing 60 as­sists; his 78 points in the reg­u­lar sea­son were good enough for sixth in the league.

Back­strom picked up where he left off. His long-awaited re­turn to Ver­i­zon Cen­ter was greeted with hearty ap­plause on his first shift. When the Cap­i­tals had their first power play 14 min­utes 14 sec­onds into the first pe­riod, Back­strom was there, tak­ing his place along the right boards.

Car­olina’s Michal Jor­dan in- ter­cepted a pass, and Oshie lunged for­ward to re­gain pos­ses­sion be­fore re­lay­ing the puck to Back­strom.

Back­strom waited sev­eral sec­onds, and just as Oshie got into po­si­tion near the high slot, he sent him one of his vin­tage passes. Oshie fired into the top right of the net to give the Cap­i­tals a 1-0 lead. He skated over to Back­strom, who threw an arm around Oshie’s neck; Back­strom’s first goal cel­e­bra­tion of the sea­son co­in­cided with Oshie’s sec­ond power-play goal in two games.

“I’ve been very, very ex­cited about this team and about what we can do if we play the right way,” Oshie said. “With him back, that ex­cite­ment just builds. It’s great hav­ing him back be­cause he’s a very spe­cial hockey player.”

The Cap­i­tals con­tin­ued to over­whelm the Hur­ri­canes in the sec­ond pe­riod, but they couldn’t solve Ward. Wash­ing­ton had a 17-5 ad­van­tage in shots af­ter the first pe­riod, a mar­gin that bal­looned to 27-12 af­ter the sec­ond. The Cap­i­tals also got a mo­men­tum boost af­ter killing off 38 sec­onds of a five-on-three Car­olina power play early in the sec­ond pe­riod, a span in which the Hur­ri­canes man­aged only one shot on goal.

But Ward kept the deficit at one goal. His most im­pres­sive save of the night came two min­utes later, when Evgeny Kuznetsov floated a re­verse pass from be­hind the Car­olina goal line. Oshie was there to re­ceive it, but Ward’s glove caught Oshie’s strike. With 2:15 left in the pe­riod, Brooks Laich’s break­away chance was stopped by Ward’s right pad.

“We should have been up by a cou­ple more goals af­ter the sec­ond,” Back­strom said. “It’s tough out there.”

Back­strom made it look easy at times. He broke through in the third pe­riod, kick-start­ing the Cap­i­tals’ of­fense, just like old times.

“He seems like he never missed a game,” Ovechkin said.

NICK WASS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nick­las Back­strom skates against Noah Han­i­fin and Car­olina. Back­strom had a goal and two as­sists in his first game of the sea­son for Wash­ing­ton, which went 3-1 on its sea­son-open­ing home­s­tand.

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