Nicklas Backstrom knew the fears were out there.
"No concussion," he said, "so we can all be calm."
With that, the Washington Capitals center, at least temporarily, quashed worries about his health thanks to some good news he got from a neurologist this week. Armed with a positive report about his neck injury, Backstrom skated Friday at the team's practice facility and deemed himself 100 percent.
"It was nothing serious," Backstrom said. "It feels good to be back here and practice on the ice again."
The 25-year-old knew where the speculation and concern was coming from. He missed 40 games last season with a concussion.
"It was a tough battle last year. That's something you don't want to go through, to be away for 40 games," Backstrom said. "You don't want to do that. Hopefully that's something I only do once in my career."
The Caps are hoping the same thing, based on their less-than-favorable results last season. Washington won just 18 of the 40 games Backstrom was out.
"Having your top centerman back in the lineup is always a huge deal," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "We were a little bit lost last year when he was out for such an extended period of time."
Backstrom now figures to be good to go for the start of the regular season Jan. 19.
"Yeah, absolutely. If I make the lineup," Backstrom said with a wry smile. "Coach's decision."
It was Backstrom and his agent's decision to get his neck checked out this week, visiting Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Backstrom claimed he was never worried about a concussion from the Dec. 26 hit while playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. But Kutcher is known for his work with concussed athletes.
Backstrom had migraines during last year's concussion but said there were none of those this time. Still, he hadn't skated since the injury.
"It's something I wanted to check out. So I went to Michigan and I got it checked out," Backstrom said. "It was more the neck. The stiffness and all those kind of things."
By Friday morning, Backstrom was feeling good and skating. But getting a clean bill of health doesn't mean he won't be careful about concussions moving forward, given his history.
"I think everyone in the league is going to be more serious about those things because it's your head. You only have one head," he said. "You can't really do anything about it. You've got to make sure it's a hundred percent so you can perform out there."
When Backstrom is performing, he's arguably one of the top 10 players in the NHL. Before suffering the concussion on an elbow to the head from Rene Bourque on Jan. 3, 2011, he was on a 100-point pace and bound for the All-Star Game.
With a shortened season beginning in just over a week, the Caps know they need to start fast. And Backstrom is a major piece of that.
"It's huge because he's one of the best players on the team, and we need him desperately," defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. "So it's a big thing to have him."
It's a big thing for Backstrom to be skating at all. He hadn't been on the ice in Arlington or anywhere since falling awkwardly into the boards in Russia last month.
Conditioning may take some time.
"Obviously it's going to take a couple days to get back there," Backstrom said. "So I've got to go to the gym and work hard."
But teammates were thrilled just to have him skating.
"He looked good. His concerns were making sure that he would be back in time for the season to start, hopefully he is," Brouwer said. "He was just glad to be back and to be cleared [so] that he can help the team out and not miss any more time."
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