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Backstrom cleared for return to Capitals

Wednesday - 3/28/2012, 9:43am  ET

Capitals coach speaks to press

Caps General Manager George McPhee answers questions about injured Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom.

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Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Injured Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom has cleared another hurdle as he looks to return to Dale Hunter's lineup before the end of the regular season.

Caps general manager George McPhee confirmed Tuesday that Washington's No. 1 center has passed an NHL-mandated concussion baseline test "with flying colors."

Backstrom hasn't played since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3. The Caps have won 17 of 39 games without Backstrom in the lineup.

"Obviously he's a terrific player, but it's got to be his decision," McPhee said, referring to when Backstrom may return to the ice. "He's a grown-up and he knows how he feels, and he'll make the decision as to whether he plays or not."

At the time of his injury, The 24-year-old Swede was the Capitals' leading scorer with 42 points in 38 games. His return would be a tremendous boost for a team on the outside of a playoff position with five games left.

It seems it's only a matter of Backstrom getting back to game-shape and in an effort to recondition, Backstrom skated 14 of the last 15 days .

Backstrom's progress is welcome news for the Capitals given the uncertainty surrounding concussions and the player's setbacks last winter.

"You don't know when these things happen whether it's going to be a day, a month, a year, two years," McPhee says. "We're just really relieved today that he feels great and he's out practicing again. He's a fabulous player that we need and this league needs. These are the guys you want to watch, the real difference-makers."

Backstrom's condition improved after visiting Sweden in March to see family. The trip was a mental break for Backstrom who grew frustrated being around a hockey environment but unable to participate.

"Maybe that's got to be part of the protocol now for guys starting to stall in his progress - send them home," McPhee said prior to the Capitals 5-1 loss against the Buffalo Sabres. The Tuesday loss leaves the Capitals in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind eighth place Sabres.

PROSPECT GRUBAUER UNDERGOES SURGERY:

McPhee also confirmed that goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn tendon in his wrist.

Washington's 2010 fourth-round draft pick was enjoying an impressive rookie campaign with the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays before suffering his season-ending injury.

"We really like him," McPhee said. "Obviously we liked him enough to draft him and then after Dave Prior got to work with him for a little bit we said ‘Boy, this guy's even better than we thought.' So we're certainly happy that he's turning out to be as good as he is. And he's played a lot of hockey this year so he should be even better next year."

Grubauer, 20, also had his final season of junior hockey cut short last year due to a bout with mononucleosis, but associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig said last month that Grubauer is on track with his development.

"He's mature beyond his years," Kolzig said. "He's very athletic, very poised, doesn't get too high or get too low. As a goaltender, you have to develop that happy medium where you don't get too caught up when you're playing bad or too excited when you're playing good. Just go about it every game the same way."

In his first professional season, Grubauer went 23-15-5 with a 2.22 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. He was also named the ECHL's Goaltender of the Month in November and its Rookie of the Month in January.

"He legitimately should be in the American League, and unfortunately with the numbers here he's in the East Coast League [ECHL]. And he went down with a great attitude and because of that he's had a fantastic year."

McPhee said that he's hopeful Grubauer will be fully recovered and able to participate in the team's summer development camp in mid-July.

CAPS SIGN FREE AGENT CAMERON SCHILLING:

The Capitals also announced Tuesday it has signed free agent defenseman Cameron Schilling to a two-year entry-level contract.

Schilling just completed his senior season at Miami University (Ohio) where he recorded 14 points in 39 games. In 144 career games at the collegiate level, Schilling collected 57 points (eight goals, 49 assists) and 155 penalty minutes.

"He feels like a good, solid pro -- a real mature kid and mature player," McPhee said. "Probably [a] shutdown D, but he's got good wheels. He gaps up quick; he retrieves pucks quick, gets to people quick. He's got some stiffness to him; he plays with some bite."

Schilling is expected to report to the AHL Hershey Bears later this week where he will spend the remainder of the season on a tryout contract.

Catch the Capitals and Boston Bruins Thursday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

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