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CAPITALS: Nicklas Backstrom Suspended For Game 4 After Penalty

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

ARLINGTON – The Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins three times during the regular season without Nicklas Backstrom. If they’re to win Game 4 of the teams’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday, they will have to do it again.

The NHL on Tuesday upheld the automatic one-game suspension issued to Backstrom for a match penalty he received moments after the Capitals’ 4-3 loss in Game 3 on Monday, forcing him out of the next contest Tuesday at Verizon Center.

The Capitals center spoke with retired eight-time all-star and vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan via telephone Tuesday afternoon, according to an NHL spokesman, and a ruling by the league office was announced later that night.

Backstrom took issue with Boston right wing Rich Peverley reaching out and tripping Alex Ovechkin with his stick with two seconds remaining in the game. He approached Peverley in the corner of the Washington zone, and while Peverley raised his stick, Backstrom was penalized.

“Even though Backstrom might have felt threatened by Peverley’s stick, the fact is Peverley is in a defensive stance, and it is Backstrom who is approaching him,” Shanahan said in an explanatory video released by the NHL. “Backstrom’s reaction is excessive and reckless. We have taken into consideration that Peverly suffered no apparent injury on the play, and that Backstrom has no prior supplemental discipline history,” but decided to uphold the suspension.

Capitals head coach Dale Hunter, speaking at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday before Backstrom’s hearing took place, said Backstrom’s cross-check was not done out of aggression as much as it was out of self-defense. Shanahan, in his explanation, agreed with Hunter, as Peverley did raise his stick toward Backstrom’s face. Hunter, though, said Boston’s rough play throughout the series has been meant to take advantage of Backstrom’s recent concussion.

The center missed 40 games this season after taking an elbow from then-Calgary forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3 and didn’t return until March 31, when there were only four games remaining in the regular season. He scored the double-overtime winner in Game 2 in Boston on Saturday.

“If you noticed it, every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on,” Hunter said. “He gets blockered to the head by [Bruins goaltender Tim] Thomas in the game before. He’s protecting his head. He just came off for 40 games, and you have to protect your head. With [Peverley’s] stick being in his face like that, it’s a dangerous play on his part.”

Asked if Hunter felt Backstrom was being targeted by the Bruins, the normally reserved head coach was anything but.

“Oh yeah,” he said, emphatically. “He comes out with no helmet. The blocker to the head; they jumped on him and twisted his helmet. [Monday] night, what’d [Boston left wing Milan] Lucic did to him in the scrum? He grabbed his head. … Nicky Backstrom’s not that kind of player. He doesn’t just cross-check somebody in the face. He’s not like that. Because the stick was there, he’s trying to protect himself.”

Backstrom did, however, serve four penalty minutes earlier in the game for cross-checking, and he has been much more aggressive since easing back into the lineup. He and New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan did their fair share of mixing it up in the regular season finale April 7 at Madison Square Garden, and afterward Backstrom expressed more confidence in his own well-being to play a more physical game.

“There’s a lot of emotion involved and stuff like that,” Backstrom said after Monday’s game, though he was not made available by the team to speak Tuesday, a scheduled day off. “We’ve got to handle it better.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said Tuesday he was proud of his players for not backing down from forceful play. Officials called a combined seven penalties in the first game and five in the second, while 16 were called in Game 3. There were 69 and 77 hits given out by the teams in the first two games, respectively, and 94 tallied Monday.

“You need some emotion in this game,” Julien said. “I think any fan that loves the game of hockey is loving the emotions that are out there right now, minus the unnecessary crap that goes with it that crosses the line.”

The first round of the playoffs has been marked by aggression thus far – most notably the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh series, which has featured near-constant hitting and fighting.

Hunter, once suspended 21 games for checking Pierre Turgeon after a goal in the 1993 playoffs, said the hostility is too much even for the postseason – and especially with a player who may not be able to handle it.

“You get a second concussion, you’re out a long time,” Hunter said. “It’s a head, you know? Any more, it’s a serious injury. It is crossing the line. To grab his head all the time – it’s not the right way to play.”


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