Continued from page 1

Plus, it’s not like these are December games against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It’s not like he’s jumping in in the first two months of the season,” Beagle said. “We’re right in the thick of things.”

McPhee went on record Feb. 27 saying “if [Backstrom] comes back, we can beat anybody in this conference.” Consider Crosby, NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins or Vezina Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, and that’s hard to envision.

So why press Backstrom into action? McPhee was right about the notion that this team, even with Backstrom out, can make the playoffs. A soft stretch coming up and even softer competition for the final playoff spots fuel optimism.

Backstrom has been symptom-free since he returned from his native Sweden in mid-March. Of course his friend Green knows from experience the need to take things slow.

“Nobody can tell him how he feels except for him,” Green said. “Yeah, I did mention that to him: If you still have symptoms, take care of yourself because one hit and you’re back to square one.”

That’s the last place the Caps and Backstrom need to be. He has seven years left on his deal with several of those in what should be the prime of his career.

So as much as players want him back on the bench and fans want to see him on the ice, Backstrom shouldn’t be back until he’s more than ready. Even if that means April. Even if that means September.