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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Backstrom, Capitals pumped for tonight's tilt vs. Philly


The phone rings and we answer.

"It's Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals," the voice at the other end says.

Interesting phone etiquette, we think to ourselves. Very polite. We couldn't remember the last time a player identified himself on the phone by also adding the team he played for. But perhaps the 21-year-old Swedish center feels compelled to do that since there's another player by the same name in the NHL.

"That is weird," Backstrom said with a laugh.

We specialize in stupid questions, so we decided to keep going on this track before asking some real questions.

"Do you even know him?" we ask.

"Who?"

"Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild," we say.

"I think I met him once," said Washington's Backstrom. "He's from Finland, though, so it's hard for me to say 'Hi' to him. Just kidding."

OK, puckheads, now that we've wasted a few seconds of your time, we draw your attention to tonight's game between Backstrom's Capitals and the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.

The last time these two teams met was Dec. 20, when the Flyers pasted the Caps 7-1. That was their first encounter since last spring's first-round, seven-game playoff series victory by Philadelphia. Needless to say, the Caps were looking forward to tonight.

"We had, like, 50 shots on them that night [48 to be exact]," Backstrom said of the loss to the Flyers. "It was a weird game. Everybody on the team is very much excited about this game."

We like Washington's chances. The Caps are an Eastern Conference-best 17-1-1 at home.

"Our home record is pretty amazing," Backstrom said. "It's hard to say why. We have a lot of confidence when we hit the ice. We have great fans at home. It makes it easier to play with them behind our back."

The Caps are second in the Eastern Conference at 26-11-3, and you could almost argue they've mostly done it under the radar. The Boston Bruins have hogged the spotlight with their amazing season, but it's definitely time to point out another team in the East that's going to be hard to beat.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence," said Backstrom, whose team has battled a huge injury list this season.

Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have garnered most of the attention for the Caps, but let's not forget what Backstrom is doing. The second-year NHL pivot has 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 40 games, second on the team only to Ovechkin and ninth overall in the NHL. He was also tied for the NHL lead with 21 points in the month of December.

"I feel a little bit stronger and I've got confidence," said Backstrom, who has found great chemistry with Ovechkin.

You know Ovechkin is a slam dunk when the NHL fills out the remaining spots for the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday, but Backstrom has a strong case to join his linemate in Montreal.

"If they select me, I'll be proud to go there," Backstrom said. "It would be a bonus."

Strangely enough, the league's other Backstrom, a goalie, has an outside shot to be named to the Western Conference All-Star team (although our money is on Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff).

If they're both Montreal-bound, perhaps the Backstroms can get better acquainted.

Pat Quinn golden again
So let me get this straight: Pat Quinn isn't yet back in the NHL fold because the rub on him is the 65-year-old coach can't relate to young players in a league that continues to get younger and younger. Blah, blah, blah.

You had to love watching Quinn coach Team Canada's under-20 team to world junior championship glory last night. Add that gold medal to your trophy cabinet, Pat ... right next to the world under-18 gold medal you picked up behind Team Canada's bench last April. Not bad for a guy who can't coach youngsters!

Kelly and Bettman meet
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly met Monday in Ottawa, though there's still no resolution to the standstill that leaves next season's Premiere Games in jeopardy.

Both sides said Monday night that discussions would continue.