Nicklas Backstrom’s “upper-body injury” during the playoffs — the one that ballooned his right pointer finger and kept him out for four full games across two series — turned out to be two fractures that he played through as the Capitals won the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Backstrom injured his finger in Game 5 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and went on to miss their series-clinching Game 6 win and the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Backstrom said Wednesday that the fractures will not require surgery and that he was not playing with any other injuries during the playoffs.
“I tried to play Game 6 [against Pittsburgh]. The hand was too swollen with the fracture,” Backstrom said Wednesday as the Capitals addressed reporters for the last time until training camp in the fall. “That was probably the worst finger to have, too. Any other finger it probably would’ve been fine. But this one is the one that I actually use. I got better and better every week. Which is good. They did a great job with all the treatments and stuff. It sucked at the time, but we got it done. I got to play again.”
The Capitals were otherwise pretty healthy during the playoffs. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov confirmed that he had a shoulder injury (although he did not specify which shoulder) during the Stanley Cup finals against the Vegas Golden Knights. It will not require offseason surgery. Brooks Orpik played through an injury to his left pinkie finger sustained in Game 2 against the Golden Knights and also said he injured his hand in the first round and will likely get it checked out this Friday. The rest of the Capitals’ key players said Wednesday that they got through the end of the spring unscathed, save the expected nicks and bruises of an extended season.
That made Backstrom’s fractures the most critical injury of the Capitals’ title run, but the 30-year-old did not let it be too disruptive to the team’s ultimate goal. Backstrom registered two assists in a Game 6 win over the Lightning, which kept the Capitals from elimination, then finished the Stanley Cup finals with a goal and six assists.
“The people who don’t play hockey, I think it’s hard to understand what a broken finger means when it’s on his top hand and it’s … that’s where you control everything, kind of,” Capitals center Lars Eller said Wednesday of Backstrom playing through his finger injury. “And for him being a center, taking faceoffs, it’s not just trying to play through the pain of trying to do the things with the puck that you want to, it’s also being more protective of it in certain situations because there’s a lot of slashes going on, lots of heavy hits, and he has to look out for that as well.
“Everybody knows that Nicky is maybe the best passer in the league. His hands are very important to him, and they weren’t at 100 percent functionality. So for him to go out and play as well as he did, that was special and really speaks to his character, just as he was able to play that well with that little function in his hand, playing with this huge thing on under his glove. That’s honorable.”
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