- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2012

BOSTON — Nicklas Backstrom’s afternoon included plenty of punishment, including a blocker to the head from Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

“I got a lot of things to my head this game,” the Washington Capitals star center said. “But that’s how it is in playoffs.”

Backstrom didn’t look at all like a player afraid of contact, even in his sixth game back after a prolonged absence with a concussion. He shook it all off, eventually scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday at TD Garden and even the first-round series at one game apiece.

“You’ve got to make sure when you get the chances, you’ve got to put them in,” a relieved Backstrom said. “It’s 1-1 and we’re looking forward.”

Looking forward with the confidence that they can hang with the defending Stanley Cup-champion Bruins and the knowledge that Backstrom might be back to his old self. After missing 40 games in the regular season, he’s looking like the guy who was on pace to be a slam-dunk All-Star.

“It just doesn’t happen [that] you’re in shape after [missing] 40 games. But he’s getting better every game and you see he’s getting better and he’s getting more ice,” coach Dale Hunter said. “He’s been strong. He’s going to the net, too, and battling for loose pucks and they’re hitting him just like everybody else is getting hit.”

Backstrom took it all in stride. Thomas’ blocker to the head 2:26 into the third didn’t draw a penalty, and didn’t seem to bother the 24-year-old. “It happens,” Backstrom said.

So did Backstrom’s game-winner, a wicked shot through traffic 2:56 into the second overtime. After a Boston turnover, Marcus Johansson found an open Backstrom with a sharp pass. It didn’t even matter that the puck was wobbling; he just fired it toward Thomas, who didn’t even see it.

“It was nice to see it go in,” Backstrom said. “I was kind of tired there.”

After playing 30 minutes, it’s hard to blame him.

And it’s equally hard to blame the Caps for feeling good about themselves and Backstrom’s play. When general manager George McPhee said on trade deadline day in February that he thought his team could beat anyone in the Eastern Conference with a healthy Backstrom, these are the kinds of moments that make it seem plausible.

It was a nice triumph for Backstrom after an agonizing few months, but he didn’t want to bask in the glow of an individual accomplishment.

“Yeah, absolutely it feels good,” the young center said. “But I don’t really care who scores in the playoff; we’re a team, and we work together. We do everything together, it doesn’t really matter. It’s great to get this win.”

Now, Washington has home-ice advantage back with Games 3 and 4 at Verizon Center, riding the strength of Braden Holtby’s stellar play through two games — and, of course, Backstrom’s heroics in Game 2.

“Well, today I got the last laugh,” he said.

And he gave the Caps a chance to get a few more.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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