The Washington Capitals finally have a chance to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, the one roadblock that has kept them from true Stanley Cup contention for years, as they enter Game Six this evening with a 3-2 series lead. However, as they take on the two-time defending champs in their own building, the Capitals will be even further disadvantaged by the loss of one their top players. The team has announced that Nicklas Backstrom is out for the crucial match-up and is day-to-day with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
While Washington may not want to officially announce the specifics of Backstrom’s injury, it is clearly a hand injury. As Sportsnet’s John Shannon points out, Backstrom was obviously sporting a heavily bandaged right hand when entering the arena earlier. Backstrom blocked a Justin Schultz shot with his hand in the first period of Game Five and saw limited ice time and no face-offs for the rest of the game. The injury now appears to be severe enough that he could not play through it tonight.
Not only is Backstrom a bona fide regular season star in the NHL, with a near point-per-game pace throughout his entire eleven-year career, but he is arguably better in the postseason. Backstrom has 88 points in 107 playoff games while skating for more than 21 minutes per night. Especially during the Caps’ current run, Backstrom has been an offensive force, recording 13 points in 11 games, including a three-point game against the Penguins in a Game Three win. Backstrom’s absence will not go unnoticed and is a major detriment to the Capitals’ depth. Washington has lost in each of the last six opportunities that they have had to reach the Eastern Conference final. To snap that streak, either tonight or possibly on Wednesday night too, they will have to find a way to win without Backstrom.