Backstrom cleared for return to Capitals

Ben Raby,

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.


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

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