Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom headed for the Capital One Arena parking garage, carrying his 4-year-old daughter Haley in his arms.
“Papa!” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek.
Backstrom smiled and propped her up further on his shoulders. It was a moment where he could finally relax.
For nearly 72 minutes of hockey, Backstrom and the Capitals fought through another nail-biter, another pivotal meeting that went, again, into overtime. But it was the Capitals who came out on top — with Backstrom leading the way with two goals in a 4-3 win Saturday over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Backstrom deflected the game-winning goal past Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in overtime. Before Saturday’s contest, the Swedish native had yet to score this postseason.
But in the playoffs, Backstrom has a history of delivering. He finally came through on the scoresheet. The Capitals now lead 3-2 with Game 6 on Monday in Columbus.
Game 5 marked the first time Backstrom’s line scored an even-strength goal during this series.
“Backy is a guy you don’t have too many long conversations with,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a guy that knows he’s playing really well or struggling a little bit, he’s very intelligent that way. He’s one of our leaders, and for us to have any success, we’re going to need all four lines to contribute. His line was good tonight.”
During the intermission before overtime, Trotz said he heard multiple players emphasize the importance of doing “the right things.” The Capitals coach praised the team’s leadership, and that included Backstrom. This wasn’t the first time the normally quiet Backstrom stepped up, either.
Last postseason, the Capitals faced a 3-1 deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Following a Game 2 loss, the Capitals held a players-only meeting and veteran Justin Williams revealed Backstrom had choice words for the group, saying what they needed to hear. Backstrom backed up his words — scoring in the three of the next four games as the Capitals forced a Game 7.
Against the Blue Jackets in Game 5, Backstrom scored twice on plays that weren’t glamorous. On his first goal, Backstrom shot the puck with on a backhand, deflecting off David Savard’s skate and into the net.
Then in overtime, Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov unleashed a wristshot that ricocheted off Backstrom’s stick.
But forget the flash. Those types of plays are needed to win in the playoffs.
“That’s just him being a leader and leading by example, winning that game for us,” linemate Chandler Stephenson said.
This season, however, hasn’t been smooth sailing for Backstrom. After 25 games, he had just three goals — and he went through a 21-game drought that lasted into December. Trotz said he never worried about Backstrom’s production, or thought he was starting to decline at 30 years old.
Like co-star Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom has been in the District for the past decade. This is his 11th season, and Trotz said Backstrom he constantly finds ways to contribute, even if he’s not tallying points.
Backstrom also rebounded after his slow start, finishing the year with 21 goals and 50 assists.
“I’ve been on his soapbox for how complete of a player he is,” Trotz said. “He’s a tremendous hockey player.”
And now, he has the Capitals on the verge of advancing to the second round.
To get the Capitals in this position, Backstrom said he felt like he had to raise his game.
“If you look at last year, I’ve been waiting for this to start,” Backstrom said. “Playoffs, it’s where everyone want to be, and I want to play. I want to play for that championship.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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