Backstrom vital to Caps' OT win over Isles

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Even with the doors to the visitors’ locker room closed, you could make out the defiant chant of one Washington Capitals player in celebration of the team’s 2-1 overtime victory in Game 4 Tuesday night.

“CAN-YOU-HEAR-US?” the player sang, a familiar refrain for the Capitals in the past pair of games in enemy territory at Nassau Coliseum.

So it’s no wonder that there was a sense of satisfaction in being able to quiet an otherwise raucous building, tying the series against the New York Islanders at 2-2 and sending it back to Washington, D.C.

“We feel like we’ve been here three weeks already,” Capitals forward Joel Ward said. “We’re dying to get back home.”

Ward played a vital role in ushering the team off the ice on a high note, creating traffic in front of Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak as his linemate Nicklas Backstrom directed a shot on net.

It was hard to tell who actually scored the goal as it went in, though neither player seemed the least concerned about what the score sheet reflected, just that the Caps were exiting with a win.

Ward wouldn’t say whether it hit him or exactly how it went in, but Backstrom said Ward deserved the credit for doing all the work.

"Without [Ward] there, there wouldn't have been a goal," Backstrom said. "I'd say it's his goal."

Ultimately, Backstrom was the one credited for the goal, making it his third in as many games, and it was a fitting reward for the team’s most consistent contributor. For as much as people perceive the Capitals’ success as contingent on whether Alex Ovechkin is producing, Backstrom’s efforts always seem to be instrumental in the outcome.

Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen described Backstrom as a “special, special player” whose offensive numbers would be even more dazzling if he weren’t so responsible in his own end. Backstrom, Niskanen mused, is the type of cerebral player who thinks and sees the game unlike any other player on that team.

Backstrom displayed that cerebral quality on the game-winner, recognizing Isles captain John Tavares had broken his stick on the draw and trying to capitalize accordingly.

“Sometimes you wonder if the rest of us are playing checkers and he’s playing chess,” Niskanen said.

Capitals coach Barrt Trotz seemed similarly pleased with the way Backstrom performed under intense pressure and expectation Tuesday. He needed his star players to step up, and they did.

“Nick Backstrom was all-world today,” Trotz said.

Ovechkin chipped in as well, and that should not be overlooked, because his involvement still has the potential to be the game-changing element in whether the Capitals move on to the next round or whether they make another short-lived postseason appearance.

Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead -- a first in the series -- and that provided some confidence for a team that entered the game fully aware of the implications of falling behind 3-1 in the series versus escaping with a split.

Limited to one goal through the first three games of the series, Ovechkin notched his second goal of the postseason on a masterful against-the-grain deflection that got the Caps on the board at 13:06 of the first period.

For once this series, the Capitals didn’t feel like they had to chase the play.

“We weren’t perfect, but we had, at least, a little offensive push so we weren’t on our heels for the first 20 minutes of the game,” Niskanen said.

The Isles tied the game later in the frame, when the team’s energetic fourth line delivered yet again when spark plug forward Casey Cizikas buried a rebound with less than 14 seconds remaining in the period.

But even as the Islanders fed off the boost from a boisterous crowd and peppered goaltender Braden Holtby with shots, the steady, even-keel netminder was resolute in keeping the Isles from tilting the ice.

The Capitals were shorthanded three times in the third period yet managed to keep their series penalty-killing record pristine (10-for-10).

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game for us,” said Holtby, who finished with 36 saves. “We knew it was going to be a grind until the end. We didn’t know how ... but we overcame it. We overcame adversity knowing that the goal was to stick to our game plan and, if we did, it would pay off and get a victory. And it did.”

By the time the third period opened, Trotz felt like his team was beginning to wear the Islanders down. The Caps’ physicality was taking a toll, he thought, and he felt like his guys had plenty of energy on reserve.

He shortened his bench defensively and he relied on his top players to come through. They did, and the team showed an impressive resilience that was palpable as the game progressed.

“We enjoyed the battle. We were enjoying how hard it was getting,” Trotz said. “And that was good. They were feeding off it.”

Now the Capitals head home for Game 5, where they can relish the cheers and support of their home fans. They’ll have a brief reprieve from the “Can You Hear Us?” chants.

And they earned it.