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Backstrom Opens Up About Road Back To Capitals, Feels New Freedom On Ice

Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom details his road to recovery and for the first time in years, is able to skate without pain. He also shares more on his upcoming return to play.



WASHINGTON — Back in June, Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He was unable to skate without pain, and off the ice struggled with basic things like putting on socks or playing with his kids. After exhausting all other options, he elected to undergo hip resurfacing surgery. The procedure had ended the career of some NHLers, and he vowed he wasn't going to be one of them. He's kept that promise to himself and is closing in on a return to game action after an impressive road back.

Backstrom is expected to lace 'em up in the next couple of days and return for his first game since undergoing the procedure, and he is feeling the best he has in years as he is finally able to play the game he loves without chronic hip pain plaguing each stride.

"I'm feeling good, I'm feeling great," Backstrom said. "Just fun being out here… it's no fun sitting out. Rehabbing and back skating sucks, but it's fun being out there practicing with the guys. It's a different thing to play out there."

The Swede was always optimistic that he would be able to play in the NHL again, despite questions from critics. He started off the ice, rehabbing, conditioning and getting strength back before skating on his own. Then, he upgraded to a non-contact jersey and skated with the team before finally ramping up and getting back up to full speed and contact.

"I knew I could return… it was a little uncertain [when]. It was more about when and how quickly I could recover," Backstrom said.

"We've passed so many things that I had to pass," he added. "Right now, it's all about repetition and skating and conditioning and stuff like that. Especially after COVID there, too."

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In terms of getting back up to game speed, Backstrom said there's an intricate process and a lot that goes into jumping back into the lineup. Still, the 34-year-old is expected to get back in a top-6 and No. 1 power-play role fairly quickly, and he is ready to take on the adjustment.

"The first game whenever that is, it's a little bit of everything," Backstrom said of getting back in the swing of game action. "Especially your eyes, too. You're not used to [looking around], and hands obviously, too. We've been skating hard, so hopefully, the lungs are there. It's just a reaction thing. Things out there, it's a little different from practice to games because out there in games, you have to react to other players."

Going back to last season, Backstrom had missed the first part of the year while rehabilitating his hip and dealing with pain after choosing not to undergo surgery. When he returned to action, he said he felt good for the first couple of games and then felt his hip start to grind down again. There were also times where he was giving his full effort, but his hip wouldn't allow him to completely push things to the limit.

With no pain or setbacks so far, he said there is a huge difference in how he's feeling mentally and that the game has become a fully enjoyable experience once again.

"If you just compared last year to this year, I'm excited to get back. Last year, I knew I was going to get through it, but I don't know. It's hard to explain it… it's hard playing games when you know that you can't give it all if that makes sense."

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"This is the best I've seen him just from a life standpoint, from a hockey standpoint, the smile on his face viewpoint," head coach Peter Laviolette added.

When the time comes for him to make his way out onto the ice for warmups in a Capitals sweater for the first time this season, Backstrom said that he plans to take things at his speed, and he's not going to stress himself out. His main plan is to have fun, do what he can to help the team win and play his game the same way he has been, which has made him the best center in franchise history and one of the best in the game.

"I'm not going to put pressure on myself," Backstrom said. "All I can say is, I feel great, and as I said earlier, the biggest thing for me is I have no pain, that I'm able to skate and move the way I want to. Hopefully, that's enough."