After Ovechkin received his game-misconduct early in the 1st period today, the NBC announcers left the Caps for dead. They kept harping on how this is Ovi's team, and they lacked spark without him, and the outlook seemed hopeless, and yada yada yada. All of it was true. One salient fact was overlooked, however: Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice.
There are a handful players in hockey who you can tell immediately what kind of game they're going to have; but only a few where you can tell that kind of game is going to involve total domination. Backstrom is one of those elite few, and he had that jump in his step today. The announcers didn't seem to realize this.
Even through the sluggish first two periods, he was the most noticeable player on the ice. He skated hard every shift, challenged the vaunted 'Hawks defensive corps one-on-one and had the puck on a string all game long. When it mattered most he grinded out an ugly rebound goal to cut the deficit to 1. Then in OT, he stifled a 'Hawks scoring chance on the doorstep and turned it up ice before absolutely OWNING two Canadian Olympians (Seabrook and Keith) with a curl-and-drag for the game-winner. Oh and he added an assist for good measure.
Backstrom is one of only two NHL players in the top 5 in points, assists and +/-. He is quietly one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He won a completely unwinnable game almost single-handedly. When Eric Belanger skated off the ice after the game, he told Pierre McGuire: "we never did that in Minnesota." That's because you never had a guy like Nicklas Backstrom on your team. Ovechkin for good reason overshadows him, but world, you are on notice: Nicklas Backstrom is an unstoppable hockey machine too.