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McPhee did not make any trades at the deadline, voicing confidence in what he thought his team could do if Backstrom came back.

“Well, I certainly think we’re capable of making the playoffs with this team right now,” McPhee said. “If Nicky Backstrom came back, it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team. And if he comes back, we can beat anybody in this conference.”

March 5 — A report surfaced out of Sweden that Backstrom was back in his native country to see a concussion specialist. Roughly translated, the story said the hope was to “solve the mystery” of why the Caps star has not improved enough.

Washington confirmed Backstrom was in Sweden, but said he was there to visit with family and get away from a hockey environment. The Capitals said he was not there to see a specialist.

He returned March 10, according to a team spokesman.

March 13Backstrom skated at the Caps’ practice facility for the first time since Jan. 23, beginning a stretch of 10 times on the ice in 11 days. He worked out with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish and then addressed reporters March 15.

He was all smiles, saying this was “absolutely” the best he had felt since the concussion.

“It can still get better but as long as I’m on the ice I think I’m getting better,” he said.

Backstrom credited going to Sweden for his turnaround, but did not provide many details.

“Well, maybe I was changing the atmosphere a little bit, I was getting a little frustrated here when I saw the guys on the ice, and obviously I wanted to play,” he said. “I think it was a good thing for me to be back there and think about other stuff other than hockey. When I got back, I felt better and I can skate now so that’s good.”

March 24 — Even more good news: Backstrom was cleared to fully participate in practices, without restriction. That means contact and all.

Backstrom drew cheers from fans in attendance, and teammates tapped their sticks on the ice when he stepped on.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for 2 ½ months. I’m kind of happy right now. It’s good to practice with the guys,” Backstrom said. “It feels pretty good out there. I haven’t been skating long, but it feels all right right now.”

There is still no timetable for Backstrom’s return to game action. Trainer Greg Smith said it’s about conditioning now, though Backstrom must pass a neuropsychological test before being cleared by doctors.