Nicklas Backstrom’s passing justifiably draws comparisons to his idol and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg. The Washington Capitals star center finds teammates with a similarly deft touch, and he can put the puck in the net.
But it was some physical play in the corner before his goal in Game 4 Saturday that made a couple teammates mention the F-word about Backstrom unprompted. Holding onto the puck, he shoved 6-foot-4, 200-pound New York Rangers forward Artem Anisimov to the ice with ease.
“I don’t know if he took a page out of Forsberg’s book, but he always does that. It’s a good play to separate yourself from a guy because usually guys are not expecting to get hit when they’re coming to hit a guy,” linemate Jason Chimera said. “You see him do that a lot. That’s why you don’t go near him in practice when he’s got the puck. So you try to stay off him.”
Forsberg might be better known for the shootout move that helped Sweden capture the gold medal at the 1994 Olympics. That got him on a stamp back home.
But players know Forsberg for his physical play, too.
“That little counter-hit is very effective and it was his countryman Forsberg that kind of started that thing a long time ago,” Caps forward Troy Brouwer said. “I know that Nicky likes playing like Forsberg and he likes that style. He’s a big boy and a strong kid so he can create a lot of space for himself.”
On this particular play, Backstrom muscled Anisimov away in impressive fashion.
“He’s not a small guy,” Chimera said. “But he tossed him aside like he was just a paper weight.”
He was then able to get the puck around the boards, and for some reason Anisimov and defenseman Anton Stralman left him as he drifted toward the net.
“I knew he could beat his guy out in front. Because I saw him coming and I kind of opened up to the play so I could see him coming,” Chimera said. “He was coming out alone. I just tried to center it as hard as I could to him and he got to it and he made a great shot.”
That sounds like Forsberg, too. Dale Hunter had some experience against Forsberg during his playing days and understands Anisimov’s plight.
“Forsberg’s done it a few times to me,” the Caps’ coach said. “So I’d go in very slowly when I’d go to hit him.”
Perhaps more players will think twice when going to hit Backstrom from now on, too.