TAMPA — Though the Washington Capitals have managed to win the past two games without top center Nicklas Backstrom, who has a right-hand injury, the team is eager for him to return to the lineup for the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His status remains unclear: The Capitals didn’t practice on Saturday, and Coach Barry Trotz said that while Backstrom worked out off the ice, he didn’t do anything on it.
But Trotz said he is “optimistic” that Backstrom will play in the series, which Washington leads after its 4-2 victory in Game 1 on Friday night. That Backstrom hasn’t been on the ice with the team isn’t a concern for Trotz.
“I’m not worried about Nick Backstrom,” Trotz said on Saturday. “Nicky is one of those guys that you can throw him in, and he’s not going to miss a beat.”
Backstrom, who is considered day-to-day, last skated Thursday, when he did some light stickhandling. He injured his hand blocking a shot in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and though he attempted to play through the injury for the rest of that game, he wasn’t able to take faceoffs, a limitation that could remain whenever he returns to the lineup.
Backstrom scored 20 goals with 51 assists this season, and he’s a key piece of Washington’s top power-play unit along with killing penalties.
With Backstrom out of the lineup, Lars Eller has admirably centered a second line with wingers T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana, and he was also promoted to the top power-play unit. In Game 1, he led the team’s forwards with more than 20 minutes of ice time and scored a power-play goal in the second period.
“He’s been great all year,” Oshie said of Eller. “I think he kind of falls in the shadow a little bit of our other two centermen, who are world-class players in [Evgeny Kuznetsov] and Backy, but Lars has been a very, very big part of our team’s success this year, and he comes to work every single day. He’s a great pro. He got a shot to step up and play some bigger minutes, and he’s seized that moment.”
Said goaltender Braden Holtby: “We know probably better than anyone how complete a player Nick is, especially defensively. There’s a ton of things that don’t get noticed, except for from us. I think our guys respect Nick so much that we know we have to step up because he’s a huge spot to fill and our guys are doing a phenomenal job, especially up the middle.”
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