- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

There is no summer off to push past the heartbreak, no time to process a disastrous Winter Olympics in Sochi or grieve what happened there.

Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom returned to Kettler Iceplex on Tuesday for their first practice with their NHL teammates as the league returns to action following a three-week Olympic break. But with a Stanley Cup playoff push looming, each man must find a way to quickly recover.

Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, 62, suffered a heart attack on Feb. 16 – news that was kept from his son during the tournament. Russia then flamed out in the quarterfinals, a massive disappointment for the host country.

Backstrom, meanwhile, is still dealing with the shock of his failed doping test and ensuing suspension just hours before Sweden played Canada in the gold-medal final on Sunday.

“This is my third Olympics that we didn’t get success. In Vancouver [in 2010] it was tough loss and this is a very tough loss for me and for Russia,” Ovechkin said. “But I’m almost 30. I have to handle it. I have to fight through it.”

Ovechkin was able to smile during a 10-minute chat with reporters. He cracked a few jokes and seemed his old self, clearly relieved that his father had left the hospital in Sochi and was flying home to Moscow with his wife, Tatyana, and son, Mikhail.

But Backstrom remained visibly upset on Tuesday, especially after pointed questions from Swedish reporters about how such a blunder could occur.

Backstrom had too much pseudoephedrine in his system (190 micrograms per milliliter) thanks to taking the allergy medicine Zyrtec-D. The International Olympic Committee allows levels of only 150 micrograms/milliliter. Backstrom’s “B” sample also tested too high and it remains in question if he’ll even receive the silver medal that his Swedish teammates earned after the 3-0 loss to Canada.

“It’s obviously been couple tough days,” Backstrom said. “You miss Olympic final, something you don’t want to do and obviously maybe you don’t have that chance again in your career, so it’s very sad and disappointing.”

Backstrom again insisted that he’s taken Zyrtec-D for seven years to treat the allergies he struggles with while living in the Washington area. He played in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and multiple World Championships and never had a problem. But the International Olympic Committee follows the code set down by the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose handbook is explicit about how muchpseudoephedrine is allowed in an athletes’ system.

Backstrom said he took his standard one pill per day and was told by Sweden’s team doctor, Bjorn Waldeback, that would keep him under the legal limit. Waldenback took responsibility for the mishap, but told reporters in Sochi that he had checked with International Ice Hockey Federation doctors and was told there was no danger with taking one Zyretc-D a day.

“Who do I blame? Well, I followed the doctor’s recommendation,” Backstrom said.

And Backstrom’s teammates defended him, too.

“It’s probably one of the highlights of his career and to not play in a game like that because of something like Zyrtec [is unfortunate],” said Martin Erat, who played in Sochi for the Czech Republic. “Everybody takes [Zyrtec]. It’s a medication for allergies if you’re sick or whatever, but I don’t think it helps you at all. It’s just ridiculous that it can happen at a big tournament like this, at the Olympics just before the finals when everybody is ready to go and you just want to enjoy the sport.”

Ovechkin received heavy criticism after scoring just one goal in Russia’s five games. Not all agree it was warranted. He did fire 24 shots on goal, after all, and Russia’s blueline played poorly during the tournament. But even Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov appeared to take shots at Ovechkin afterward, expressing bafflement why he didn’t score more.

“When you accept the accolades, you have to stand up and accept the criticism, and I thought [Ovechkin] did that,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “In terms of how people lay it on him, I have my own opinions, which him and I talk about all the time. In terms of his game, we talked before he left. He can only control himself, right? And I thought he’s done a great job and been professional about it, and we move on.”

And now Backstrom and Ovechkin are tasked with helping Washington reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. The Caps resume play Thursday night in Florida with just 23 games to go. They are 27-23-9 with 63 standings points and are one point out of a playoff position.

“It’s not fun to deal with,” Backstrom said. “I don’t wish no one to have to go through this, if I’m gonna be honest with you. It’s not fun. But I’ve got to look forward to play next game on Thursday. I’ve got to focus on Washington right now. That’s why I’m here.”

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