They’d much rather have their top center in the lineup for an important Game 4 at Verizon Center on Thursday as evidenced by a statement the team released to reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“We disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom,” the statement said. “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.”
But the Capitals know they can’t afford to dwell on the ruling – they can’t change it. They say their focus is on trying to even their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, which the Bruins lead two games to one.
“We don’t think he should be suspended but their side says he gets suspended for one game,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s disappointing but he’s suspended so it’s in the history books, we have to concentrate [on] tomorrow.”
Said Alex Ovechkin: “Well, sometimes you think it’s right decision, sometimes it’s not, sometimes you want to laugh. So right now I think it’s kind of bad decision. But there is nothing you can do.”
Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis expressed a similar sentiment on his blog, Ted’s Take. “Complaining may make us feel better but it won’t help us in our preparation for Thursday’s game,” Leonsis wrote Wednesday.
“We can’t let the officials play a role in our game planning,” Leonsis added. “We need to remain disciplined and remember that the defending Stanley Cup champs will always get the benefit of the doubt; we need to rise above the noise and focus on signal; play tight defense – capitalize on Boston’s mistakes – score when we get a power play; continue to rely on strong play in net. Don’t retaliate to plays after the whistle.”
The Capitals hope that their experience playing without Backstrom from earlier this year when the Swedish center missed 40 games with a concussion, will pay off in this situation as Backstrom’s absence causes a ripple effect.
Mathieu Perreault will be moved into the second line center spot, flanked by Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin on the wings. Veteran Mike Knuble is expected to make his first postseason appearance of the year after sitting out the first three contests as a healthy scratch to fill out the forward lines.
Without Backstrom’s presence in all situations – even strength, power play and penalty kill – the Capitals will likely look to focus on getting their defensive play back to where it was in Games 1 and 2.
“We’re a very good team I think but Boston’s got so much firepower I don’t think you can get into a run and gun game against them,” Karl Alzner said. “It’s got to be the one where it’s just a dogfight and you capitalize on a mistake. We had mistakes last game and that’s what happens, the first two games we had much less….It’s just a dogfight now. Just play tight and try not to give him much.”
As for the absence of Backstrom offensively, Washington will be without its best passer and set-up man so the team will try to rely on getting the forecheck going and playing a simpler, grinding game.
“You know, we’ve got to keep it simple. I think when Nicky’s got the puck, he controls the play. He slows it down. He sees the ice well,” Troy Brouwer said. “Without a player like that, you’ve got to find other ways to keep possession of the puck. Whether it’s getting it in and getting the cycle, you’ve got to have other guys making sure they’re not just throwing pucks away. You’ve got to kind of compensate for him being out.”
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