There's no question that Nicklas Backstrom is an all-world talent, one of the best two-way centers in the game and the guy who keeps all the pieces moving for the Caps. He's racked up huge point totals over the course of his (relatively young) career and has written himself into the franchise history books as the all-time greatest playmaker in Caps' history. He is, in no uncertain terms, elite.
And yet the one accomplishment that has eluded him, the one that has perhaps kept an asterisk next to his name when talking about some of the game's big-time players, is his relative lack of production when the postseason rolls around. Here's a look at what he's done through nine previous playoff series:
43 points in 57 games is certainly nothing to sneeze at; and he's had some big years, some big performances, and a couple of overtime game-winners on his resume (including the one that rounded out his first hat trick of any kind back in 2010). But there's a notable dropoff over the last three playoff appearances, with just 13 points in 29 games prior to this season.
So as good as the total numbers may be for mere mortals, those aren't really Backstrom-esque numbers - not from a guy who has consistently been a point-per-game player as long as he's been in the NHL.
This year, though? This year he seems determined to put that whole "doesn't show up in the playoffs" narrative far behind him.
Backstrom has already picked up a League-leading six points in the first four games, including three goals, and has routinely been one of the best players on the ice night in and night out. And those three goals have been pretty huge for the Caps: the game-tying goal in the comeback win in Game 2, the goal to force overtime in Game 3... and most recently, last night's huge overtime winner to bring the Caps even in the series.
2014-15 was one of Backstrom's best regular season campaigns - perhaps not in terms of pure point production, but in his all-around game, where there's been an obvious maturity and continued growth under Barry Trotz. It was fun to watch, but it's been even more fun to see him carry that strong regular-season performance into the playoffs, which for whatever reason hasn't been happening of late. He's a leader of this team, a veteran, and now he's bringing all of that and all of his skill to the postseason stage, as well - something that's crucial for the Caps going forward.
Because this team is only going to go as far as their best players can take them... and Backstrom is more than doing his part.