WASHINGTON — Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Backstrom, who was a game-time decision Thursday morning before being medically cleared to play, had four shots on goal in the Capitals’ 4-2 loss. With the win, the Lightning evened the series 2-2.

Backstrom had missed the previous four playoff games after taking a shot off the hand from Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz on May 5.

He had participated in the morning skates for Washington this week but returned to taking line rushes and power-play practice time only on Thursday. He had been wearing a brace on his right hand.

“From day one for me, he’s been an amazing leader, on and off the ice. A guy that’s great having around. If he’s in tonight, that’s huge,” said Capitals forward Tom Wilson before the game. “He’s definitely a core part of this team, a tremendous leader, a guy you look up to and a guy you follow into battle.”

Washington had Backstrom on its third line with Chandler Stephenson and Brett Connolly, while Lars Eller remained in Backstrom’s old spot as the second-line center with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana.

The Lightning acknowledged that Backstrom’s return could be significant, but that one player can’t change their approach.

“He’s a world-class player, obviously got great hands and makes some nice plays. He can pass the puck and he’s been here for a long time and he’s a world-class player so if he’s in the lineup, we’ve obviously got to know when he’s on the ice,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. “But the personnel doesn’t really, we don’t focus too much on that. We’ve obviously got to know when he’s on the ice but we’ve got to focus on ourselves and get the job done anyways.”

Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday back in Tampa.

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