Washington Capitals star center Nicklas Backstrom is a game-time decision for Thursday night’s Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, MSG+), but that isn’t affecting the New York Islanders much.
“To be quite honest, we’ve prepared for him for every game,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s on the board, we talk about his impact if he’s in. He just hasn’t been in. It doesn’t change our approach but he’s a very good hockey player and a big piece of the Capitals.”
Backstrom was forced to leave Game 1 early after taking an Anders Lee hit to the chest that sent him into the NHL’s concussion protocol. But Capitals head coach Todd Reirden disclosed Thursday morning that the 32-year-old participated in morning skate and will meet with doctors and the team’s training staff before a call is made.
Against a Backstrom-less Capitals, the Islanders have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, but his return restores his partnership with Alex Ovechkin to reunite one of the best offensive duos in hockey.
“We’re preparing for him to be in,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “He’s a world-class player… He adds a lot to their team. At the same time, we’re more worried about what we have to do.”
What the Islanders have to do is limit their uncharacteristically loose play that helped lift the Capitals to a 3-2 victory in Game 4.
Untimely penalties and a misfiring power play that is now 1-for-19 in the series is the very reason why there is a Game 5 in this series in the first place.
“The best thing to do is simplify [the power play],” forward Jordan Eberle said. “Get the cliched pucks to the net and try to get a second opportunity.”
“Creating momentum is huge. If we want to finish this series, we have to be strong in that aspect for sure.”
What the Islanders can take solace in heading into Game 5 is that they’ve often rebounded well after losses under Trotz given their ability to correct their mistakes quickly.
But that doesn’t hush the urgency that comes with trying to eliminate a desperate hockey team.
“I don’t know if I have extra calmness or anything. They understand that they have to respond. They weren’t happy with the way we played that game,” Trotz said. “This group is pretty good at understanding and correcting mistakes and details. So I think you’ll see at least a better effort from us in a lot of areas of our game.”
It still remains unclear if that effort will include fourth-liner Cal Clutterbuck. After saying he was likely good to go yesterday, Trotz downgraded the winger to a game-time decision.