It’s with this backdrop of verbal jousting and lobbed insults that the Capitals and Bruins will meet for a pivotal Game 4 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Thursday at Verizon Center. Boston leads the series, 2-1 and, with Backstrom out of the lineup, the Capitals must try to even the series without their best playmaker.
“We disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom,” the Capitals said in a statement released by the front office. “This has been a competitive and physical series, and we do not understand why a suspension was imposed in this case while other incidents in this series have not been reviewed. Our singular focus now is on Game 4, and we look forward to the energy that our great fans provide.”
Washington’s frustration at losing Backstrom is understandable. While the team grew accustomed to playing without the Swedish center during the regular season, when he missed 40 games with a concussion, Backstrom’s absence weakens the Capitals’ overall depth and removes their most well-rounded player.
Backstrom expressed regret for the cross-check to Boston forward Rich Peverley’s head as time ran out in Game 3 that resulted in the suspension. “I did what I had to do,” Backstrom said. “I think it was stupid on my part. I’ve got to deal with it now.”
While the Capitals talked about standing their ground and not being baited into retaliating against the Bruins on Thursday night, Boston Coach Claude Julien took exception to Capitals Coach Dale Hunter’s claim that the Bruins were targeting Backstrom’s head.
“It’s ludicrous. It’s ridiculous,” Julien said. “I don’t blame Dale for defending his player, if that’s what he’s trying to do. To me, it’s going to war for your team, and I’m not commenting more on that. I’m not gonna comment on his comments on protecting his player, if that’s the case. But if he really believes the other way around, that’s the part that I don’t [understand]. Being accused of headhunting is ludicrous.”
Asked about the accusations from Hunter, the Bruins shrugged off the notion they would intentionally try to injure a player with a history of head injuries, considering that several of their teammates, including Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron, suffered or are still coping with concussions.
“Obviously [Hunter] is saying stuff to protect his players and that’s about it. For us, our main focus isn’t about what’s being said in the paper or anything like that,” forward Milan Lucic said. “We just worry about ourselves and what’s in this dressing room and I think that comes from our past experiences and how we’ve dealt with situations in the past.”