Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Injured Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom will accompany the team to Boston, but will not play tomorrow against the Bruins.
Backstrom took part in an optional skate Wednesday, marking the 15th time in the last 16 days that the Caps' No.1 center has taken the ice.
His return to Dale Hunter's lineup could come within the week, but both coach and player confirmed Wednesday that it won't be until at least this weekend.
"He's not going to play tomorrow," Hunter said. "We just want him with the team so that he can practice the drills -- the battle drills that if he gets in that's how he'll have to play. They're hard drills out there and everyday he's been fine so it's good news for us and for him."
Backstrom has not played since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3. The Caps have won 17 of 39 games without Backstrom in the lineup.
"Well, I'm close," Backstrom said. "I'm close to playing, I think. Obviously it takes a while to get back in normal shape. But we don't have too much time, either. I'm feeling good. I've been practicing [well] the last couple days and I've been pushing it a little bit, too."
Backstrom was cleared for contact last Saturday and given the green light to fully practice with his teammates. Yesterday he passed an NHL-mandated concussion baseline test "with flying colors" according to general manager George McPhee.
Now it's up to Backstrom himself to determine when he is in the necessary game shape to return to the lineup.
"Maybe the lungs, after not being able to do anything in two months, 2 ½ months," Backstrom said of what still needs to improve. "Especially the lungs. But it's getting better. We'll take it day-by-day and see where it goes."
The 24-year-old Swede was the Capitals' leading scorer at the time of his injury with 42 points in 38 games and his return would be tremendous boost for a team that is on the outside of a playoff position with five games to play.
"Changes a lot for this team," defenseman Karl Alzner said of a possible Backstrom return. "Just looking at the things that he does for the team not only offensively but defensively, he logs a lot of minutes and makes everybody better. It's a huge, huge part for all the guys to have him back, we're hoping that he is, but at the same time it's a head thing you've got to take it easy."
Following tomorrow's game in Boston, the Capitals return home to face the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. The ninth place Capitals are two points behind the eighth place Buffalo Sabres.
Catch the Capitals and Boston Bruins Thursday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.
Follow WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)