By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
As if Game 7s weren't dramatic enough, subplots of both big and small significance unfolded around the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers yesterday, providing an intriguing backdrop for tonight's decisive first-round contest at Verizon Center.
The biggest development was the suspension of Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear, who was banned six games for two separate transgressions during his team's 5-3 victory in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Following an afternoon telephone hearing with league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, Brashear was suspended one game for a confrontation with Colton Orr during warmups, then was handed a five-game suspension for his "blind-side hit" on Rangers fourth-liner Blair Betts. Betts suffered a broken orbital bone and is sidelined indefinitely.
The suspension is the third for Brashear since joining the Capitals as a free agent in July 2006, with both previous bans occurring in 2006-07, the first for three games and the second for one. Brashear's suspension begins tonight and will extend through the next five playoff games. If the Capitals do not play five more playoff games, Brashear would finish the suspension at the beginning of next year's regular season.
"Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player," Campbell said in a statement. "It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."
Brashear was a scratch in the first two games of the series and has not played more than 4 minutes 23 seconds in the four games since returning to the lineup from a knee injury.
"I'm just disappointed in the decision," Brashear said. "I thought it was just a little too much. I agree with the decision with the warmup incident. But I was very disappointed in the games they gave me for the hit. There's not much I can do. But anybody who knows hockey knows that was a great hit."
It's possible, if not likely, that Brashear will be replaced in the lineup by captain Chris Clark, who has not played since Jan. 27 because of a wrist injury that required surgery.
If Clark does suit up, it will be his first playoff game with the Capitals and first postseason action since he played for Calgary in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. Clark, who missed most of the past two regular seasons and last spring's playoffs because of injuries, said Coach Bruce Boudreau told him yesterday to "be ready."
"Hopefully I have a little more legs than the Rangers have," Clark said. "And I can add a little more speed. I'm in shape and I've done everything I could because I've been skating the whole time, so there's no problem with that. It's just game shape, that first-game-of-the-year type thing."
A few minutes before Clark spoke about the possibility of returning from a lengthy layoff, across the dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was answering allegations by the Rangers that he had bitten Brandon Dubinsky during a skirmish behind the Washington goal.
Morrisonn denied biting anyone. But Dubinsky, who reportedly required a tetanus shot and was wearing a bandage on his right wrist, reiterated after the Rangers' practice in Greenburgh, N.Y., that Morrisonn had indeed bitten him.
"That's not what happened," Morrisonn said. "I didn't do that or anything like that. I was kind of shocked that they would say that. But this is what they do. But whatever, I'm just getting ready for Game 7."
It's believed the league looked into the incident, but that no disciplinary action is expected as a result of the review, according to a Capitals source.
The drama actually began before the Capitals even took the ice. Someone called ESPN yesterday morning claiming to be a Washington Post reporter. The person told the network that defenseman Mike Green and Brashear had been suspended for one game apiece. ESPN began reporting the erroneous news, which was displayed on the crawl along the bottom of the screen, for about 25 minutes before the hoax was uncovered.
That, however, was plenty long enough for word to get back to Green, who was en route to practice when he received a phone call from a friend.
"My buddy called me and was upset that I was going to miss Game 7," Green said. "But I had no idea what for. When I got here, I was told that it was a mistake. It kind of caught me off guard this morning, for sure."
The Capitals and a Verizon Center spokesman declined to respond to a letter the Rangers sent to Commissioner Gary Bettman alleging "gross negligence in ensuring the safety of the personnel on the Rangers' bench" in Game 5. That night, Rangers Coach John Tortorella responded to hecklers by hurling a water bottle into the crowd and waved a stick menacingly in the direction of fans. Tortorella earned a one-game suspension but will be back behind New York's bench tonight.
Whether the story lines swirling around this series will prove to be a distraction or motivating factor for the Capitals remains to be seen, but this much is certain: They're eager to erase the memory of last year's loss to Philadelphia in Game 7 of the quarterfinals.
If the Capitals dominate the way they did in Games 5 and 6 (they outscored the Rangers 9-3), and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has a third consecutive off game (nine goals on the last 34 shots he's faced), Washington just might advance to the second round for the first time since 1998.
Boudreau is hoping last year's disappointment not only fuels his players, but has prepared them, as well.
"We've been there before," Boudreau said. "So maybe the experience means how they act: Their demeanor coming to the rink. Their demeanor when they're in the dressing room. But when we get out there, we're going to play the way we play. We've been there before so we know how to act and what the situation is going to be like and what the pressure is going to be like."
Capitals Note: With Betts out, the Rangers recalled forward Artem Anisimov, who had 37 goals and 44 assists for Hartford of the American Hockey League this season.
Staff writer Mike Wise contributed to this report.