The Washington Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night, and as they sit tied with the Buffalo Sabres in the eighth spot at 86 points in the Eastern Conference with four games to go, they'll get a vital part of their roster back Saturday night after a 40-game absence thanks to a concussion.
Nicklas Backstrom last played on Jan. 3 during a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. Overshadowed by the victory was Rene Bourque's elbow to the head of Backstrom, who left the game and never returned after taking two more shifts. (Bourque was suspended five games.) Earlier this week Backstrom passed a baseline test and Capitals GM George McPhee said it was up to the 24-year-old center to decide when he felt comfortable to return.
Saturday is that day.
During Washington's morning skate, Backstrom was taking line rushes between Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson, a pretty big hint that a return was imminent. Afterwards, he confirmed his return to the lineup against the Canadiens, the team Bourque was traded to nine days after the Backstrom incident.
From Steve Whyno of the Washington Times:
"Yeah, I'm really excited. It's going to be fun to play again," he said. "It's a big game for us and we need all those points. I'm excited to be back in such an important game."
It's a huge boost to a Capitals team which is in an unusual situation at this point in the season battling for a playoff spot with four games to go. Backstrom was headed for a 90-point year when he exited the lineup and Washington continued to struggle mightily in his absence. Over the last 40 games since Backstrom last played, the Capitals have gone 18-16-6.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy