The Washington Capitals are on the verge of overcoming a huge stumbling block in Monday night’s Game 6 against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, but they could be missing one of their franchise cornerstones for the 7 p.m. faceoff.
Top-line center Nicklas Bäckström did not participate in Monday’s morning skate due to an upper-body injury he suffered in Game 5, leaving his status up in the air for Washington’s biggest game of the year.
On Sunday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz sounded optimistic that Bäckström would be good to go, but he simply said Monday that Bäckström was a game-time decision.
As an adjustment to Bäckström’s absence at the morning skate, Evgeny Kuznetsov centered Alex Ovechkin and Chandler Stephenson during drills, with Game 5 hero Jakub Vrana knocked down to the second line alongside center Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie. Travis Boyd, a 24-year-old rookie, centered Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly, while Jay Beagle was the fourth-line pivot.
Boyd played just eight games late in the regular season and hasn’t appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs previously. He had one point, an assist, in his cup of NHL coffee after being promoted from AHL Hershey in February.
Bäckström, 30, is one of just three Capitals — along with Ovechkin and Beagle — to have played in all four post-lockout playoff series against the Penguins. A point-per-game player who’s skated in over 800 regular-season games, Bäckström is coming off a 71-point regular season and has 13 points (three goals) in 11 games this spring.
Bäckström appeared to block a shot with his hand in the first period of Game 5, leading him to hand faceoff duties to Stephenson the rest of the way. Bäckström did not play in the final 13 minutes of the Capitals’ comeback win that pushed the defending champs to the brink.
Ovechkin would probably suffer the most from a Bäckström absence. He said he thought his longtime center would play.
“We’ll see,” Ovechkin told reporters.
In other Capitals injury news, defenseman John Carlson took part in drills and appears good to go for Game 6. Carlson was put in concussion protocol after Jake Guentzel caught him flush with a hard hit late in Game 5. Trotz petitioned the league to take a look at the play for possible supplemental discipline, but the Department of Player Safety passed on that.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now will have full on-site coverage of Game 6, including a pregame video on Facebook Live and postgame analysis!