The Caps (39-31-8, 86 points), who only have four games left, held an optional practice today coming off their 3-2 shootout win last night over the Boston Bruins as they are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the last and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Sabres have a game in hand. The Caps though could be getting some much needed help.
Nicklas Backstrom (13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games), whose skated 17 of the last 18 days, could make his return tomorrow when the Caps host the already eliminated Montreal Canadiens. Backstrom, who is fifth on the team in points, hasn’t played since he received a concussion on January 3rd when he was elbowed by the Calgary Flames Rene Bourque. Bourque has since been traded to the Montreal Canadiens and is expected to play tomorrow night against the Caps.
“No, there’s no target date. It depends how I feel,” Backstrom said. “Everything is possible, it’s possible I could play last game too.
“Depends how I feel tomorrow and this afternoon and stuff, but I felt good out there today too so we’ll see.”
Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter wouldn’t rule Backstrom out for tomorrow.
“We don’t know yet, we’ll have to meet as a group and see how he feels,” Hunter said. “We’ll just monitor him everyday and see how he is.”
Hunter said they’ll meet tomorrow to decide if he can go, but Backstrom still has to meet with trainers before he can go.
“I’m excited to get back on the ice,” Backstrom said. “But we going to have a discussion in the trainers room and see what’s going on.”
Backstrom said on his lungs, “good, haven’t felt better” and said on how is body is responding, “good, real good, lot of energy. I’m excited.”
But just getting in shape isn’t the only hurdle Backstrom must go over before he can return.
“You just got to be mentally ready to face a hockey game,” Backstrom said.
Tomas Vokoun left in the first period last night appearing to re-injure his groin and his status is unknown on if he’ll return this season.
“We don’t know, it’s a day-to-day thing,” Hunter said.
Michal Neuvirth (12-12-5, 2.89 GAA, .900 Save pct.) is ready to go in net if Vokoun doesn’t return.
“Obviously, feel bad for Vokey [Vokoun] but it is what it is. I proved last year I can be the man,” Neuvirth said. “I’m excited and going to take one game at a time and try to focus for tomorrow.”
Neuvirth stopped 19 of 21 shots in relief of Tomas Vokoun last night. It was Neuvirth’s second game in a row he’s come in in relief of the starting goalie.
Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 2.71 GAA., .915 Save pct.) is also available if Vokoun can’t go. Holtby last played on Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres and gave up three goals on 18 shots before he was pulled.
The players who took part in the Caps optional skate today were: Beagle, Chimera, Holtby, Erskine, Schultz, Halpern, Ward, Backstrom, Neuvirth, Eakin.
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Nicklas Backstrom and Michal Neuvirth had to say following the optional skate today.
Dale Hunter Practice Audio
Nicklas Backstrom Practice Audio
Michal Neuvirth Practice Audio