WASHINGTON – Part of what makes the Capitals such a hard team to defend against is their lethal one-two punch of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin has established himself over the course of his career as the best goal scorer in the world and perhaps of all time. Backstrom, meanwhile, is one of the best set-up men in the game. So it comes as no surprise that those two, reunited onto the top line before the playoffs, are giving the Carolina Hurricanes fits. What may be surprising, however, is how they are doing it.
Through the first two games of the series it has been Backstrom who has been finding the back of the net with three goals already. Ovechkin, meanwhile, has recorded one dazzling assist in each of the first two games.
In Game 2 on Saturday, Backstrom scored the game’s first goal tipping in a puck on the backdoor behind goalie Petr Mrazek. The pass came off the stick off Ovechkin, who brought the puck into the offensive zone, delayed until Backstrom could get separation on defenseman Justin Faulk and delivered the puck through two defensemen.
“When he lines up like that, a lot of people think he's going to shoot because he's got a terrific shot,” Backstrom said.
“It was on the tape,” he added.
Ovechkin delivered another beauty in the third period. He again entered the offensive zone and cut back allowing Backstrom to set the pick. Nick Jensen drove to the net drawing the defense with him and leaving Tom Wilson wide open. Ovechkin delivered the cross-ice pass to the trailing Wilson who shot home the goal.
“He's one of the best players in the game,” Wilson said. “You're not going to be that being a one-trick pony. He does it all. He's a leader, so he does it every night.”
“When you play with [Evgeny Kuznetsov or Backstrom], you know, you learn a lot,” Ovechkin said. “Right now, Backy is a scoring machine. You know, I'm Backstrom.”
The role reversal between two of the team’s biggest stars is amusing considering the soft-spoken Backstrom has spent so much of his career in the shadow of the boisterous Ovechkin. As a result, he has been one of the most underrated players in the NHL for much of his career.
The significance in terms of this postseason is that both players are showing off their versatility early on.
It’s not just that Ovechkin is setting up teammates with great assists. He also has a goal of his own, he’s back-checking, he’s throwing big hits.
“He covered for me one time,” Wilson said. “It was a 3-on-1, and he was the last guy back and turned it over. He did a heck of a job. That's what playoffs is about, that's what team is about. It doesn't matter who it is. He's our star and he carries the load every single night, and it's fun to have him around.”
For Backstrom, he’s not just scoring. He is also blocking shots, he is playing great on the penalty kill and winning big faceoffs.
“Who’s out there three-on-five?” head coach Todd Reirden said. “Who’s out there going to the back post for Alex to have that play? Who’s taking the faceoffs against their top guys? This player is so underrated. Most consistent guy for us in terms of year-after-year, game-in and game-out. He flies under the radar a lot. Hopefully he gets the respect he does after these first two games. He’s always consistent. But these are the best two back-to-back games that I’ve seen Nick Backstrom play in my five years here.”
To win in the playoffs, teams need big games from their best players. That does not mean just getting goals from Ovechkin and just getting assists from Backstrom. It’s about the leaders stepping up and providing whatever the team needs them to provide on the ice.
Through two games, the Caps’ leaders are doing just that and that is a very positive sign that this could be another lengthy playoff run.
Said Reirden, “Our leadership, our top guys came to play and I’m really proud of them.”
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