Backstrom sports a smile, not a shiner

Boston's Tim Thomas stops a shot by Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. (Getty Images)

Boston's Tim Thomas stops a shot by Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. (Getty Images)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:16 PM ET

BOSTON - As he stood in front of dozens of reporters who were shoehorned into the Washington Capitals dressing room, you expected to see an ugly purple welt on the face of Nicklas Backstrom, a souvenir from where he’d been smacked in the kisser by the blocker of Tim Thomas.

But there was none.

Only a smile.

With 2:26 remaining in regulation time, Backstrom had been hacking away at Thomas when the Boston Bruins goalie responded by belting him right between the eyes, sending the gifted Washington Capitals forward crashing to the ice with a resounding plop.

On this day, Backstrom would have his revenge. And it would be oh so sweet.

Indeed, at 2:56 of double overtime, Backstrom would strike back at his Beantown assailant in the best way he knew how, ripping a centring feed past Thomas to give his Caps a dramatic 2-1 victory in front of a stunned sellout throng at the TD Garden.

Now here he was addressing the media, all the while knowing that this best-of-seven first-round series is now deadlocked at 1-1 heading into Game 3 Tuesday in Washington.

And, in the process, enjoying having the last laugh on Thomas, too.

“Well today, I got the last laugh,” he agreed.

For one day.

That’s good enough for the Caps who, thanks to Backstrom’s heroics, come home all even with the defending Stanley Cup chammpions instead of trailing in the series by two games.

With his Caps having long been criticized for being too soft to fight through the grind that is playoff hockey, Backstrom’s persistence in shaking off the Thomas blow perhaps is a sympbol that maybe, just maybe, this team is taking on the no-nonsense personality of coach Dale Hunter, one of the meanest, fiercest hombres to ever lace up a pair of blades during his illustrious NHL career.

To see Thomas physically go after an opposing forward is nothing new. How can anyone forget the Boston goalie decking the Canucks’ Henrik Sedin in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final? Fans in Vancouver and Boston certainly haven’t, albeit for entirely different reasons.

This time around, Thomas seemed to be reacting to Backstrom’s poking.

“I was trying to put the puck into the net,” explained Backstrom. “The puck was loose. I found it.

“I don’t know. Maybe he thought I was hitting his pads for different reasons. I don’t know. It happens. It’s playoffs.”

For the Capitals, seeing Backstrom rounding into form could not come at a better time. Having missed 40 games this season with a concussion, the uber-skilled Caps forward only returned to the lineup with just four games remaining in the regular season.

“Absolutely this feels good (after missing all that time,” Backstrom said. “But I don’t really care who scores in the playoffs. We’re a team and we work together and we do everything together. So it really doesn’t matter. It was just great to get the win.”

Thanks to his goal, of course.

“I got a great pass from Marcus (Johansson) there,” he said. “I was trying to get it on net. I think the puck was wobbling a bit so I don’t know if it changes direction or whatever.

“It was nice to see it go in because I was tired there.”

What this series has lacked for in goals, it has more than made up for in drama. While the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have combined for 20 goals in their first two games, the Caps and Bruins have managed just four between them.

Truth be told, part of that can be attributed to the outstanding play of Thomas and Caps rookie goalie Braden Holtby. While Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov have resembled house league goalies at times in the Pens-Flyers clash, Thomas and Holtby have been outstanding from start to finish.

Thomas had not allowed a post-season goal in 161 minutes, 41 seconds until Troy Brouwer beat him in the second period. Holtby, meanwhile, has been beaten just twice in 144 minutes 14 seconds including Benoit Pouloit’s equalizer at 12:13 of the third period.

It’s a remarkable performance for a kid who has stopped 72 of 74 shots in these, his first two career NHL playoff games.

“(Our defence) was outstanding,” Holtby said.

So was he.

Again.


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