The Washington Capitals (39-31-8, 86 points) host the Montreal Canadiens (29-35-14, 72 points) tonight and in a must-win game for the Caps, it looks like they’ll be getting some much needed help.
Nicklas Backstrom (13 goals, 29 assists, 42 points) will make his return tonight after missing the last forty games with a concussion. Backstrom, who only played in 38 games, is still fifth on the team in points.
“I’m very excited. It’s going to be fun to play again,” Backstrom said. “It’s a big game for us and we need all those points, so I’m excited to be back in such a important game.”
Caps veteran Brooks Laich summed it up perfectly on what Backstrom means to this team.
“He’s a welcome addition back. We get our good buddy back,” Laich said. “First off he’s an emotional lift. Really well liked guy in the room. Very respected guy in the room and then a world class hockey player. It’s a good day, it’s a real good day.”
The man who elbowed him in the head and gave him the concussion on January 3rd, Rene Bourque, has since been traded from the Calgary Flames to the Montreal Canadiens and looks to be in the line-up tonight for the Habs.
“I don’t really care about that. It happened,” Backstrom said. “I’m not going to waste any energy on that.”
This will only be the second game under Dale Hunter has had Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green in the line-up at the same time. The first was on January 3rd in a Caps 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames when Backstrom received the concussion.
The Caps forward line rushes this morning looked like: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson, Chimera-Perreault-Semin, Aucoin-Laich-Brouwer, Hendricks-Beagle-Knuble, Eakin-Halpern-Ward.
Eakin, Halpern, Ward, Erskine and Schultz look to be the scratches.
John Erskine didn’t skate today after skating yesterday. He is day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Michal Neuvirth (12-12-5, 2.89 GAA, .900 Save pct.) is in goal tonight for the Caps. For Neuvirth it’s his first start since March 23rd, but he’s relieved Caps goalies the last two games, including the 3-2 shootout win in Boston on Thursday.
“He deserved it from last game,” Hunter said on why he chose Neuvirth. “Going to a shootout against Boston, if you see the stats from the shooters on Boston, they’re right up there so he made big saves and got us a big win.”
The Caps are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for eighth place and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Caps own the tie-breaker. Both teams have four games left. The Caps are also four points behind the Florida Panthers for tops in the Southeast Division with both teams having the same number of games left. The Senators are two points ahead of the Caps and Sabres for 7th place in the Eastern Conference, but the Senators have a game in hand.
The Montreal Canadiens come off a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers last night and are in turmoil. The Canadiens fired their general manager, Pierre Gauthier, Thursday.
Peter Budaj (3-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 Save pct.) is likely in net tonight for the Habs.
But even with all the problems the Habs have, you can’t take them lightly.
“Any given night, they’re all battling for their jobs the teams that are not in the playoffs” Hunter said. “As an ex-player, you’re always trying to prove to management that ‘I deserve to play here, I deserve [a spot] for next year.’ So with Montreal, it’s going to be a battle. I saw last night, they worked their tails off, so we’re going to have to really work.”
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich & Mike Green had to say following the morning skate today.
Dale Hunter Practice Audio
Nicklas Backstrom Practice Audio
Brooks Laich Practice Audio
Mike Green Practice Audio