Capitals 3, Canadiens 2, SO

Blow a two-goal lead, win in the shootout for the second game in

a row.

But this one was different for the Washington Capitals, if only

because Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice.

Welcome back, Backstrom, just in time for the crucial games that

will determine if the Capitals make the playoffs.

Washington’s best player over the first half of the season

returned Saturday night after 40 games away due to a concussion,

and he won 12 of his 18 faceoffs and provided an immeasurable

psychological boost in a 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal

Canadiens.

”He’s one of those guys that lightens the room up,” Washington

forward Troy Brouwer said. ”He’s very well-liked by everybody on

the team and you always have a good time when you’re with him, so

whenever you get to see him back – plus the smile on his face, how

he’s been feeling and acting around the room the last couple days,

knowing he was going to play tonight – it’s a big pick-up.”

The win, coupled with Buffalo’s 4-3 loss to Toronto, moved the

eighth-place Capitals two points clear of the ninth-place Sabres

with three games to play in the regular season.

Washington also moved within two points of Southeast Division

leader Florida.

But if there’s a worrying trend for the Capitals, it comes from

the fact that they essentially put on a repeat performance from

Thursday, when they also lost a 2-0 lead at Boston before getting a

3-2 shootout win.

”Two leads the last two games,” Washington defenseman Dennis

Wideman said. ”We have to find a way to keep pushing and keep

pressing and not letting teams back in the game.”

Michal Neuvirth, making a bid to be the postseason starter, had

39 saves for the Capitals, including one that hit him in the mask

and left him flat on his back late in the second period. He also

kept his net clean in the shootout, stopping David Desharnais’

attempt and standing his ground as Max Pacioretty missed wide.

Matt Hendricks and Alexander Semin scored in the shootout for

the Capitals, and Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle scored

first-period goals.

But the main attraction was Backstrom.

The top-line center received a roaring reception when he was the

last player introduced in the starting lineups, and even the singer

of the Canadian and American national anthems wore a Backstrom No.

19 jersey.

The 24-year-old forward, who is fifth on the team with 42 points

despite all the games he missed, then took the faceoff that began

the game.

Backstrom had been out since Jan. 3, when he was elbowed in a

game against Calgary by Rene Bourque, who now plays with the

Canadiens. Backstrom played nearly 20 minutes Saturday night.

”I’ve got to play the same way that I usually play,” Backstrom

said. ”I can’t be worried about getting hit again, and that’s what

I did from the start and it felt all right, but I can be a little

bit better. My lungs were a little tired there after a while.”

Erik Cole and Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens, who have

lost four straight. Peter Budaj made 31 saves.

The Canadiens are the worst team in the East, and they looked

like it early. They gave the Capitals three power plays in the

first 14 minutes, including one after Budaj was whistled for

playing the puck outside the trapezoid behind the net.

The Capitals didn’t convert any of those man-advantage chances,

but they scored with a pair of easy odd-man rushes. On a

two-on-one, Semin had his shot saved but corralled the rebound and

passed to trailer Perreault for the goal. Beagle made it 2-0 with

his third goal of the season, skating in unmarked to tap in a pass

from Hendricks.

But Washington again found a way to lose the lead. Montreal cut

it to one in the final minute of the period when Cole poked in a

rebound, and the Canadiens’ assertive play in the second period was

rewarded when Plekanec skated around defenseman Roman Hamrlik to

put a shot over Neuvirth’s glove.

”The guys worked hard tonight and they deserved maybe a better

fate,” Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said. ”We certainly

crawled out of the deficit we had and the first goal (by Cole) was

a big one, obviously turning the game around for us and getting us

going in the right direction. … I liked the effort overall.”

Notes: Canadiens C Petteri Nokelainen left the game in the

second period with an upper body injury. … The Capitals placed D

John Erskine on injured reserve with a lower body injury. He hasn’t

played since Feb. 12. … The Capitals have won six straight over

Montreal.

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP