This is debatable, but Nicklas Backstrom may have played the best game of the season by a Washington Capitals player. He was that good.
Brian Pothier said he was “disgusting.” Bruce Boudreau said there might not be words to describe how great he was. Backstrom just killed the Rangers on almost every shift.
None more so than the one that led to Washington’s second goal. To recap:
— He gets his stick in the way of Ryan Callahan’s rebound shot, which was an easy lay-up, but Backstrom’s deft manuever forced the shot off the near post.
— He takes a pass in the neutral zone and skates the puck into the offensive zone.
— After he circles back along the left wall, Callahan comes looking for his revenge. Instead, Backstrom, while still protecting the puck, drills Callahan — who is one of the toughest guys on the Rangers roster — and knocks him to the ice.
— Then he uses that open space to push a one-handed pass past the other Rangers defender pinching him along the wall to Alex Ovechkin, who then makes a nifty pass to Alexander Semin for his second goal.
In a span of seconds, this went from a sure 1-1 contest to a 2-0 Washington lead and the Rangers (and a ridiculously loud MSG crowd) were never the same.
Brooks Laich said in Canada they call that the “TSN Turning Point.”
Backstrom’s pass to set up the first goal was also great … and he finished the night with making a pass to Tom Poti that Bruce Boudreau called one of the best he’s ever seen.
So yeah, No. 19 had himself a ballgame.
On to some other notes and quotes:
* Not to be forgotten because of Backstrom’s excellence, but Simeon Varlamov just pitched a shutout in his second NHL postseason game.
Varlamov has stopped 55 straight shots in this series, and there is no doubt who will be in net from this point forward if he keeps playing like this.
He made several big saves, but he also took a cheapshot punch from Sean Avery and didn’t flinch. The kid has all kinds of cool and moxie and guts and poise and all those other words people like to use to describe that stuff.
* Speaking of Sean Avery, it was “Bad Sean Avery” night at the Garden. Game 1 was “Good Sean Avery” night, but he went over the edge a few times in this one. John Erskine goaded him into taking a swing and then didn’t retaliate. Boudreau said every player on the Caps bench stood up to congratulate Erksine. The second call on Avery might have been a little suspect, but the other three were all legit.
* Alex Ovechkin did not score a goal, but he still had a pretty good night. He helped set up two goals, but he also made two great defensive plays while shorthanded.
* Alexander Semin had two goals and nearly had two more, but Brian Pothier pointed out that he was really good about being committed to not trying to make dumb passes and limiting his turnovers.
* Speaking of Pothier, he played his best game since coming back from the concussion. Boudreau also really liked Erskine’s effort. The defense in general was pretty good in front of Varlamov.
* If there was a negative, Tomas Fleischmann did not have a good night. Brooks Laich needs to be getting more power-play time than Fleischmann. Eric Fehr might deserve to steal some his minutes, too.
* Finally, John Tortorella’s take on this game: “We weren’t close – this was a good old-fashioned spanking,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We just need to take our medicine and get some things figured out.”