Nicklas Backstrom underwent a grueling offseason procedure on his hip that for him was a last resort. Nearly a decade earlier, Backstrom had an arthroscopic procedure done to address the pain he was feeling. It helped for a few years but the pain returned.
After struggling to skate on the ice or play with his children off of it, Backstrom decided to have hip resurfacing surgery over the summer to try and ultimately fix the problem. The procedure had its risks. In a worst-case scenario, the surgery could have ended his career, but if it all worked out, it could reinvigorate his final years until retirement.
Backstrom rehabbed tenaciously for a little over six months. According to an ESPN story, Backstrom was in a swimming pool three days after the surgery, walking on crutches within two weeks, and lifting weights within two months. He ultimately returned to the ice four months later.
And then finally, on January 8, Backstrom made his grand return to the Washington Capitals in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There were probably many questions swirling around in his head beforehand: How well would he play? Did he still have it? How would his hip hold up? And would he live up to his fans’ and his own high expectations?
Postgame, Backstrom admitted he felt the pressure.
“I get a little nervous every game but this was obviously something different,” Backstrom said. “I haven’t been this nervous before a game, I’ll be honest about that.”
Even his son Vince — a talented youth hockey player himself — seemed to pick up on that energy. The Backstrom family was in attendance for their father’s return, and he told a story postgame about how the morning had started for him.
“My son actually woke me up this morning…he poked me on the back and he goes, ‘Daddy, you’re playing in game tonight?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna play.’ And he goes, ‘Are you nervous?’ So I’m like, ‘Yeah buddy, I’m nervous.’ He goes, ‘Oh, okay.’ It’s kinda funny.”
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette honored Backstrom and his hard work by giving him the start along with longtime friend and linemate, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson, who also was making his season debut after rehabbing a knee injury. Backstrom got a huge ovation from the crowd.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) January 8, 2023
“It was amazing,” Backstrom said of the fans’ show of appreciation. “I couldn’t ask for anything else. That was something special that’s for sure. Moments like that you’re never going to forget and it’s very special.”
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) January 9, 2023
Once he hit the ice, Backstrom seemed to relax and play his game skating on the first line with Ovechkin and Conor Sheary. He didn’t register a point on the night, but he did win four of his six faceoffs and get a shot on goal. He had 14:03 of ice time in the game.
“Yeah, it was just the conditioning part that was a little off,” Backstrom said. “I fell a couple of times, hit some players…I just need to get up to game speed and repetition here.”
Backstrom was also credited with three hits, which is usually not a part of his game. In the second period, Backstrom took an interference penalty where he leveled Andrew Peeke to the ice, leaving the Blue Jackets defensman slow to get up.
“He said he didn’t hit me enough during rehab so he was out there throwing the body around,” Tom Wilson said laughing. “I guess I didn’t test him enough, he wanted to prove it to himself. He looked strong on that penalty he took. He just threw the guy down no problem.”
Backstrom also returned to the first-unit power play where he’s spent much of his last 15 seasons.
“He looked good. It was fun to see him making plays out there on the power play back at home,” Wilson said. “He’s no spring chicken anymore. For him to step in and play well and get his feet back under him, it’s really inspiring and he’s been a huge inspiration for me throughout the whole process to push me, lead me, and just be there for me every step of the way. ”
Even with all the nerves and pent-up energy, Backstrom’s return to the ice was a memorable night sure to stay with him and Caps fans everywhere.
“It meant the world,” Backstrom said. “I missed this and with not knowing what my future’s going to hold, just coming back and playing feels great,” he said.
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