- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nicklas Backstrom left Verizon Center on Saturday knowing he helped set up the Washington Capitals’ last two goals and that his nine assists this postseason lead the NHL.

Yet the Caps’ 3-2 win against Pittsburgh in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals left Backstrom with much to be desired.

“Today, I had my worst game of the playoffs,” he said.

Huh?

“There are some things I have to work on,” he said.

Seriously?

“We can do better, especially our line,” he said.

Like what? Scoring? Backstrom has yet to score, but the nine assists will do.

Plus-minus? He was on the ice for both Pittsburgh goals but didn’t make the deciding mistake.

Getting his linemates involved? Semin has 10 points in eight games, and Fleischmann potted the winner early in the third period.

Faceoffs? OK, that needs work: Backstrom was 4-for-15 in Game 1.

But if Game 1 exhibited Backstrom’s worst, the Caps should be OK in what could prove to be an entertaining and lengthy series against the Penguins. With stars all over the ice, the scoring will come from a variety of sources, and Backstrom figures to be involved.

“He’s very calm,” third-line center David Steckel said. “He’s cleaned up his game, making the passes and doing the right things.”

While Semin has been on fire this postseason, Backstrom’s other flank, Tomas Fleischmann, had been without a goal or assist since the first period of the opening series with the New York Rangers. Fleischmann was momentarily replaced by Brooks Laich during Game 7 on Tuesday but returned to Backstrom’s line Saturday and scored with 18:14 remaining.

Steckel was asked if a center puts an emphasis on getting a goal-scorer going if he’s mired in a slump.

“I don’t know if you try harder,” he said. “It would be a concern if Tomas wasn’t getting chances. But he’s been getting chances, and they hadn’t been going in. Both did what they had been doing, and it worked out this time.”

Added Backstrom: “It was good [for Fleischmann]. He’s a goal scorer and has good speed, and he can surprise a lot of guys. Hopefully, he can keep doing his thing.”

If Fleischmann can provide some scoring, it would make the Caps even more dynamic offensively. Semin (10 points), Backstrom (nine) and Alex Ovechkin (eight) have proved to be consistent in their second postseason.

Backstrom and Semin teamed up for the Caps’ second goal, which came during a five-on-three power play.

In the low left circle, Backstrom rifled a feed to Semin at the center point. His slap pass was one-timed home by Ovechkin from below the right circle, a classic tic-tac-toe play that’s nearly impossible to stop. The Caps are 7-for-35 with the man advantage, which could turn out to be the difference — especially if the Caps’ penalty killers (32-for-36) continue to do the job.

With the score tied at 2-2 early in the third period, Backstrom received a feed from Semin that resulted in a surprising two-on-one in the Penguins’ zone. Fleischmann charged toward the net and, to his left, Backstrom glided with the puck.

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar committed to Backstrom, sliding to the ice. For a moment, Backstrom thought about shooting, but then he did what he does best: He flipped a pass to Fleischmann, who pitchforked it off Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder for the winner.

“I was thinking at first to try and just flip it over [Gonchar], but then I saw ‘Flash’ and thought it was an easier thing to pass it to him,” Backstrom said.

The Caps held the lead for the final 18:22 to prevent the Penguins from stealing home ice. Ovechkin scored. Fleischmann broke his drought. And Simeon Varlamov made the highlight-reel save to overshadow the softie he let in.

All in all, a great start compared with the first round. But Backstrom wants a more complete performance from his line in Monday’s Game 2.

“Yeah, I had two assists, but I can work better all over the ice,” he said. “As long as we win, it’s good, but hopefully we can play 60 minutes.”

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