Monday, March 15, 2010

Nicklas Backstrom's Shift in Five Frames

Nicklas Backstrom's second shift of overtime began when he hopped the boards with 2:40 remaining in yesterday's Ovechkin-less 4-3 comeback victory over Chicago. His shift begins innocently enough, as he sends a feed by Mike Green wide of Antti Niemi from the slot.

The puck comes back down ice before it's turned over in the Washington zone by Chicago's Troy Brouwer; Backstrom recovers the loose puck and skates toward center, when he slows and waits for his line-mates to complete a shift change. Brouwer reads Backstrom's intent beautifully, intercepts his attempted pass and breaks in on José Theodore.

Here's where one of the season's best shifts becomes special.

Now 40 seconds into his shift, Backstrom turns tail and back-checks ferociously, intercepting Brouwer just as he reaches the front of the net.

In one swift motion, Backstrom lifts Brouwer's stick and clears the puck from danger by banging it toward the vacant corner. Even though Tom Poti is closer to the loose puck, Backstrom accelerates in front of Poti and collects the carom off the dasher.

Backstrom builds up a head of steam through the neutral zone. After that near-fatal turnover and 45 seconds into his shift, Backstrom might have been tempted to dump the puck for a line change. But he knows Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien are trapped in his wake while Chicago's D are in the middle of a change. With plenty of room through center and Poti and Mike Knuble on his flanks, he decides to push it.

Poti and Knuble drive toward the net on the 3-on-2 while Backstrom dangles the puck in front of Brent Seabrook, inducing him to sprawl for an attempted shot block. Seabrook's Canadian Olympic teammate Duncan Keith is preoccupied by the onrushing Poti and Knuble, while the backchecking Byfuglien is too slow to do anything but watch. Backstrom toe-drags around a kneeling Seabrook and has a lane to the net the size of West Madison Street. Keith realizes this an instant too late.

Backstrom slips the puck between the legs of Niemi just before he's cleaned out by Byfuglien. It might never have happened had Brouwer not intercepted Backstrom's pass in the neutral zone.

Shifts like these mean everything to the Capitals, who showed a national television audience they have another superstar whose name isn't Alex.

It also means two things in particular to Backstrom: more Selke talk and more dollar signs.

[Thanks to YouTube user OvechkinW for uploading the video]

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