The Washington Times - May 6, 2011, 12:16AM

Nicklas Backstrom whiffed at loose pucks. He couldn’t hit open nets. His offense just wasn’t there.

On every occasion following the Capitals’ ouster from the playoffs, Backstrom and everyone around him have claimed he was not hurt. The No. 1 center on Wednesday night said: “I don’t know what happened. It’s [expletive] frustrating.”


Asked Thursday if he was in pain during the playoffs, he said: “No. No pain.”

Backstrom’s play was painful to watch. He managed just two assists in nine playoff games and couldn’t buy a break.

“Of course it was tough. I know it’s frustrating,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as I should be, and I’m going to take full responsibility for that and I just have to get better.”

On breakdown day, coach Bruce Boudreau and general manager George McPhee revealed a host of injuries from Mike Knuble’s broken thumb to John Carlson’s hip pointer and Mike Green’s hip flexor. But the company line was that Backstrom wasn’t hurt.

“Nicky wasn’t [injured] in the playoffs, I don’t believe. He might have the garden-variety stuff, but nothing major,” McPhee said. “He did fracture his thumb and play through that, which was pretty darn impressive. To break a thumb and didn’t miss a shift in the game that he broke it; I think he sat out one or two games; actually, we had to put it in a cast at one point.”

Boudreau praised Backstrom at every turn even during his slump, and he defended him again Thursday. But the coach said “I don’t think” Backstrom was hurt.

“He’s one of those guys that he’s only missed like four games his whole career. He doesn’t tell ya if he’s hurting,” Boudreau said. “I think Nicky, the one thing is as great a player as he is, and I play him probably more than I play anybody on the team. Other than scoring goals, he did everything else right.”

But the offensive woes started affecting the Caps drastically. Backstrom had his chances and appeared snake-bitten all playoffs long. Confidence became an issue.

“I think some days felt good, and it was just there around the net,” Backstrom said. “That’s the thing that was bothering me, too. I was frustrated on myself, but obviously this is hockey and it goes up and down all the time and of course it’s frustrating. I don’t know what else to say.”

Maybe that you were hurt? According to the Caps’ official website reporter Backstrom admitted in a one-on-one interview that he re-injured that fractured thumb during the Rangers series.

It would explain a lot, given that the $6.7 million star never misses those kinds of chances with that stunning regularity. Boudreau said it was a matter of just getting over the hump and that if Backstrom scored one goal, “he would’ve scored five.”

But he didn’t. And teammates could see Backstrom was feeling the weight of the slump. He managed no shots for a stretch of 106 minutes, 13 seconds from the end of Game 2 until the third period of Game 4 – hardly normal for a guy the Caps depend on.

“When you’re one of the stars on the team and things aren’t going right offensively for you, you put a lot of pressure on yourself, no question,” Jason Arnott said.

Still, the Caps aren’t down on Backstrom and expect the best next season.

“I completely think that he’s still one of the top few centers in the NHL and he will be for a long time to come,” Boudreau said. “I’m 100 percent sure that Nicky will bounce back to have that offensive year that we think he’s gonna have next year.”