Nicklas Backstrom’s right hand is still banged up, but the Washington Capitals’ star center is ready to go for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the host Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
Backstrom conceded that the injury has forced him to make subtle adjustments, but he regards his injured index finger as the sort of minor nick that numerous players endure at the end of a 100-game grind.
“I’m not going to lie, you have to think a little different,” Backstrom said, according to the Washington Post. “But I am feeling good right now and I’m ready to play.”
Backstrom has been dealing with the injury since Game 5 of the second round but returned for the final four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference semifinals. Observers noted that he used his left hand to shake hands with Lightning players at the end of the series.
After amassing 21 goals and 50 assists in the regular season, the 11-year veteran has four goals and 12 assists in 15 playoff games.
Washington dropped the first two games of its opening series with the Columbus Blue Jackets but is 12-5 since. The Capitals surrendered more than two goals only once in the past 10 contests.
“We worked so hard for this to be able to be in the Final, and all it took was 11 years, but now we’re there,” Backstrom said. “So, it’s a great feeling, especially the way we did it, the way we played the game. It was outstanding from everybody.”
Backstrom has been playing on a line with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie throughout the playoffs and is the key to the power-play unit.
“He’s one of the better passers in the league and a real key player,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Sunday. “We have more to worry about than just Backstrom. They’re playing real well, and they’ve got a lot of talented hockey players. He’ll be one of the guys we’ll worry about, but we’ll make sure we’re playing against their whole team.”
Added Vegas general manager George McPhee: “His hockey sense is elite, and his ‘compete’ is elite. He’s a real quality guy and a real quiet leader.”
Washington defenseman John Carlson said one of Backstrom’s most impressive attributes is his ability to move the puck into the offensive zone.
“It’s so much harder to defend when (the puck) is in the middle of the ice because it can go anywhere,” Carlson said. “It can stay there or go to the wings, and for me it’s much easier to play something if the puck gets kicked out wide.”
—Field Level Media