- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2018

Nicklas Backstrom said he surprised himself. As he went to take the faceoff, the Capitals center put his stick on the ice — and immediately won the draw.

Backstrom wasn’t limited Thursday after missing the last four games with a right hand injury. He saw 18:51 of ice time, recording four shots on goal and winning six of his nine faceoffs.

I thought he played a hell of a game,” coach Barry Trotz said.

But Backstrom’s return wasn’t enough as the Capitals suffered 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington has dropped two straight and the series is now tied at 2.

“It was so fun to be back out there,” Backstrom said. “It’s where everyone wants to be. You want to be on the ice. It’s just too bad we didn’t get the win.”

Backstrom received a standing ovation from the crowd when he lined up for his first faceoff. Trotz said Backstrom had been “chomping at the bit” to return, having not played since Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Still, Backstrom needed medical clearance before suiting up. He had made strides in recent days, including expanding his workload in Thursday’s morning skate.

He finally received the news he had been waiting for around the team’s lunch.

“I feel good,” Backstrom said. “I feel really good.”

For Game 4, Backstrom centered the third line alongside Chandler Stephenson and Brett Connolly. The line was new to Backstrom, who played alongside T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana most of the playoffs.

Center Lars Eller, though, had been productive in Backstrom’s absence. He scored in each of the Capitals’ first two games, and his line dominated the puck.

That being said, Eller had another tough outing Thursday. He committed two costly penalties, which led to a Lightning power-play goal and another score six seconds after time on the kill had expired. The latter was the game-winning goal from Tampa’s Alex Killorn.

Eller, who did not speak post-game because he was receiving treatment, has had five penalties over the last two games.

“That was way too many,” Trotz said. “That’s on Lars and no one else.”

Backstrom resumed his spot on the first unit of the Capitals’ power play. The 30-year-old plays a crucial role as the setup man for weapons like Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson.

But the Capitals’ power play, again, came up short. They are now 0-of-7 over the last two games, with four of those opportunities coming in Game 4. Tampa had success in deflecting the Capitals’ cross-ice passes.

Backstrom said he felt the power play was the difference maker, adding Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is too good to unleash shots from the outside without traffic.

As a whole, the Capitals led 38-20 in shots.

“We’re going to need him pushing forward, especially now that he has a game under him,” goaltender Braden Holtby said of Backstrom. “He’ll take on more minutes and a bigger role. You could tell as the game went on, he was getting more and more comfortable, so he’s going to be a much-needed asset for us in these next few games, for sure.”



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