Back­strom progress over­shad­owed by Ovechkin in­jury scare

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY STEPHENWHYNO

It was hard to wipe the smile off Nicklas Back­strom’s face Thurs­day. But that shouldn’t be all that sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing the Washington Cap­i­tals star skated three days in a row, a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in his re­cov­ery from a con­cus­sion that has side­lined him since early Jan­uary.

“As soon as we see him around skat­ing, we’re all smiles too,” de­fense­man Karl Alzner said. “Just the fact that he’s on the ice is huge. We’re all pretty happy about that.”

But those feel­ings were quickly over­shad­owed. About 10 min­utes into prac­tice, for­wards Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knu­ble col­lided at full speed dur­ing a drill.

Ovechkin lay face­down for two min­utes and spent a few more on the bench with his head in his hands be­fore walk­ing to the locker room look­ing dazed. CAP­I­TALS AT WIN­NIPEG Fri­day: TV: Ra­dio:

“Ob­vi­ously it’s the last guy you want to see go down in prac­tice, es­pe­cially this stretch from here, we need him,” for­ward Keith Au­coin said. “I didn’t see it; I just heard it. It didn’t sound very good. It was two big bod­ies hit­ting each other, and hope­fully he’s all right.”

With Back­strom mak­ing progress, the hope is that Thurs­day won’t be seen in ret­ro­spect as an­other rough day in a sea­son full of ups and downs. Coach Dale Hunter in­sisted Ovechkin was “fine” and that the cap­tain did not suf­fer a head in­jury, say­ing he just had the wind knocked out of him.

But if this sea­son has taught the Caps any­thing, it’s that in­juries and ad­ver­sity can pop up out of nowhere.

“You just got to roll with it. You can’t re­ally think a whole lot about it be­cause it’s just what hap­pens,” Alzner said. “If we were play­ing in the play­offs and all of a sud­den one of the guys went down and we started sec­ond-guess­ing our­selves be­cause we hadn’t been through it, then that wouldn’t be very good. Now we know we can play with or with­out.”

No one wants to see Ovechkin miss any time, and Hunter said the left wing will play Fri­day night at the Win­nipeg Jets. But the Caps have been wrong about in­jury sit­u­a­tions be­fore. They in­sisted Back­strom was fine, but symp­toms be­came worse days af­ter he was hit and he hasn’t played since.

On Feb. 20, Ovechkin sat out the final min­utes of a game at Carolina. The team said it was an equip­ment is­sue. But he didn’t play the next game with what Hunter fi­nally re­vealed as a lower­body in­jury.

The Caps learned how to play with­out Ovechkin when he missed that game and when he served a three-game sus­pen­sion ear­lier.

For­ward Jeff Halpern noted, “He’s your best player, so ob­vi­ously it’s a big loss,” and right wing Troy Brouwer tried not to re­peat him­self about Ovechkin’s value to this team.

“You’ve got to play hard. He brings a lot of of­fen­sive chances; he brings a lot of speed, some phys­i­cal­ity,” Brouwer said. “Guys got to step up and guys got to play hard. No one’s ever go­ing to fill the shoes of Ovechkin.”

It’s just about im­pos­si­ble for the Caps to make up for Back­strom’s loss, which is felt five-on-five, on the power play and on the penalty kill. That’s why even the sight of him skat­ing around and flip­ping pucks into an empty net on an empty sheet of ice Thurs­day was rea­son for hope.

There’s still no timetable for his re­cov­ery, but Brouwer men­tioned that see­ing Back­strom around and on the ice “brings a lit­tle spark” to the Caps.

The 24-year-old cen­ter, who be­fore the in­jury was on pace for his first All-star Game ap­pear­ance, has to fight the temp­ta­tion to rush back but not the temp­ta­tion to smile about be­ing back on the ice.

“It’s so hard,” Back­strom said. “You want to be out there so bad. Es­pe­cially when you see the guys right now, you just want to prac­tice with them. As long as I’m here with the guys, I’m happy.”

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Cap­i­tals cen­ter Nicklas Back­strom skates Thurs­day at the Ket­tler Cap­i­tals Iceplex in Ar­ling­ton. Back­strom has skated three days in a row, a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward as he re­cov­ers from a con­cus­sion that has kept him out of ac­tion since early Jan­uary.

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