Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom has been suspended for Game 4 after recieving a match penalty for crosschecking Bruins forward Rich Peverley near the face in the waning seconds of Monday night’s 4-3 Bruins victory. With a match penalty in the last five minutes of a game, an automatic one game suspension is handed out. Backstrom appealed to no avail. NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan upheld the suspension despite the grumblings out of Washington.
“We don’t think he should be suspended but [the league’s] side says he gets suspended for one game,’’ said Capital’s coach Dale Hunter. “It’s disappointing but again, he’s suspended, it’s in the history books, we have to concentrate [on Thursday night].’’ Hunter also has said that the Bruins have been targeting Backstrom’s head all game and he was just defending himself. A play like Backstrom’s might not normally warrant a suspension, however this year’s playoffs have been extremely intense and devastatingly physical. Shanahan has handed out 8 suspensions around the league already, doubling the totals of all of last year’s playoffs. Backstrom’s suspension may have just gotten caught up in the rest of them.
With Backstrom out, the Capitals lose a good goal scorer, but his on ice awareness and play making ability is where the 24 year old Swede really excels. Backstrom has always been a great set up man, particularly when he gets paired up with Alexander Ovechkin, who is never afraid to shoot the puck. With one less offensive force to worry about, The Bruins, who pay a systematic defense, can really stymie the Caps and lead the Bruins to a victory tonight and take a 3-1 series lead back to Boston. One would think that the Bruins would like to end the series early to give 38 year old goaltender Tim Thomas some extra rest.
But don’t think that missing Backstrom will cause the Caps to just roll over. Afterall, the Caps have plenty of experience without him. Backstrom missed the better part of the last three months of the season due to a concussion; forty games in all from early January to late March. During that time the Capitals went 10-6-3 at home and 18-16-6 overall, including three victories against the Bruins.
The key now for the Bruins to win will be to stay out of the penalty box. With the playoffs trending the way they have been and the aforementioned suspensions, the referees may be looking to call a tight game, especially with the emotions in this series starting to rise. In last night’s games the referees called 12 minor penalties in the New York Rangers/Ottawa Senators game leading to three total power play goals. In the Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers game, the referees called a whopping 20 minor penalties and doled out a few misconducts as well. That led to 7 total goals in 14 opportunities. Both those series had already boiled over emotionally and there may have been some pre-game meetings about calling it tighter to give the refs a little more leverage. Can we expect the same thing for the Bruins and Capitals now? The Bruins play a physical, emotional style of hockey and that could play into the Capitals’ hands. The Capitals still have a dangerous power play without Backstrom, so the B’s will need to stay disciplined.
The series has tilted in favor of the Bruins. They just need to take advantage of it.