- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tom Wilson leapt up off the bench on Tuesday, screaming like a child, and skated toward the mass of humanity gathering in the south end of the rink at Nassau Coliseum. Stuck on the periphery, with his high-pitched wails continuing, he continued asking who scored the Washington Capitals‘ winning goal, eventually skating off the ice a minute later without an answer.

“Honestly, I didn’t know until well after the game, after the interviews and stuff,” Wilson said, his reaction to the winning goal caught only because he wore a microphone during the game for NHL Network. “At first I thought it would be Ovi. I thought that would be the safe guess. He already had one earlier in the night, and it turned out be Backy, so that’s awesome. He’s a great leader, and that’s so clutch for us.”

Alex Ovechkin, who scored the first goal in that 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders, the 33rd in his 62nd playoff game, would have been a wise guess. Instead, it was Nicklas Backstrom, whose off-balance wrister fluttered between Joel Ward’s legs and past a screened Jaroslav Halak at 11:09 of the overtime period.

The goal was the third in four games for Backstrom, who has resumed scoring at the perfect time for the Capitals. The center, who scored 18 goals during the regular season, entered the playoffs on a 23-game drought, having last found the back of the net when he scored two power-play goals in Washington’s 5-1 victory at Winnipeg on Feb. 19.

Known more as a creator — he led the league with 60 assists during the regular season, and earlier this year, moved into first place in franchise history with 427 career assists — Backstrom has been extraordinarily reliable during his eight seasons with the Capitals, but only during this playoff run has he started to gain additional notice around the league.

“He doesn’t need the spotlight,” right wing Jason Chimera said. “He doesn’t want the spotlight, but it’s nice to get him recognized, for sure. I think all he cares about is us winning. He doesn’t care who gets the credit, who gets the goals.

“I mean, it’s nice for him to be that guy [in the playoffs], for sure, but he’s a guy that just goes about his business and doesn’t care what people think or [if they] talk about him that much. He’d be better if no one talked to him, for sure. He’s just a good kid.”

With three assists in addition to the three goals, Backstrom entered Game 5 of the teams’ first-round playoff series on Thursday tied for third in the league with six points in the postseason. A lynchpin of Washington’s top power-play unit, he’s seen increased time on the penalty kill the last two games with Eric Fehr out because of an injury, notably blocking Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy’s puck off his backside in the first period on Tuesday.

“I think I’ve been saying it, and when you say it enough, I think people start to recognize it, and when people start to recognize it, his play speaks for itself,” coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s no bigger spotlight than in the playoffs. All I did was bring some awareness to it now, and his play speaks for itself.”

Modest and unassuming, Backstrom — who has never been selected to an all-star team — downplayed his increased uptick in scoring during the playoffs as the result of being “just lucky.” When pressed if any skill was involved on the game-winner, he merely said no.

Trotz has maintained throughout the season the Backstrom is as complete a player there is in the league and has, on several occasions, thrown around the idea that he should be a candidate for the Selke Trophy, given to the best defensive forward.

After Tuesday’s game, Trotz referred to Backstrom as being “all-world,” because at this point, no other metaphor would suffice.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Ward said. “Everyone that’s seen him play, they say the same thing. I mean, I don’t really know how to explain it. I think he should have been on that level years ago, to be honest with you, but you know, he’s just going to go about his business, quiet, just doing his thing.”

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series in Game 2, skating through the Islanders‘ penalty kill and sinking a clean look from the slot to tie the score in the third period of an eventual victory. His next, in Game 3, also tied the score in the third period, when he lifted a wrister that was aided by a screen.

Islanders center John Tavares said Backstrom is a player who can create offense when given the proper time and space — and Tavares should know. It was after Tavares broke his stick on a faceoff against Backstrom that the Capitals‘ center was given the opportunity to put a puck on net.

“We all know what he can do, and I know you guys do, and I’m sure the opposition is aware, but somehow, he just doesn’t get that attention,” Ward said. “Which, it’s fine by us, and I’m sure that’s fine by him, too, but it would be good once in a while for him to receive those accolades.”

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