Near the midway point of the third period of Washington’s 3-1 win over the Flames on Tuesday, Nicklas Backstrom skated through the neutral zone, passed the puck to a teammate and then was elbowed in the head by Calgary’s Rene Bourque.
After Bourque struck Backstrom on the left side of his jaw, Backstrom skated toward the boards and leaned over into the space between the benches, then proceeded to the Capitals’ bench. He hunched over as he talked to head athletic trainer Greg Smith and a few teammates, but returned to the ice for the start of the power play that resulted from the elbowing minor Bourque received.
Backstrom took part in that shift on the power play and two more before he left the game with 3 minutes 19 seconds remaining in the third period.
Backstrom, Washington’s No. 1 center and leading scorer, did not speak to reporters after the game because he was being evaluated by team doctors to determine if he suffered an injury on the play.
“We removed him from the game, it was precautionary,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He was getting evaluated right now. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
The NHL has experienced a rash of concussions to star players this season, the same year that has seen the league focus on removing dangerous hits to the head from the game and doling out punishments for those who inflict them.
Bourque received a two-game suspension in late December for hitting Chicago’s Brent Seabrook from behind but said after Tuesday’s game Tuesday that he was unaware he may have hurt Backstrom on the play.
“Did it look really bad? Was he hurt? I didn’t even know if I clipped him,” Bourque said. “I didn’t even know if I hit him in the head.”
While it’s unclear at this time if Backstrom suffered an injury the play, the Capitals said the hit was questionable and took place away from the puck in the neutral zone.
“I didn’t really see it but the puck wasn’t even close,” said Marcus Johansson, who was on the ice when the hit occurred. “It’s unnecessary and I think it’s very, very bad.”
Said Troy Brouwer: “I still haven’t seen it. He’s been known to have a couple questionable hits. I know there was one on Seabrook earlier in the year. . . . He’s got that little bit of an edge to him and he takes it a little bit overboard.”
Backstrom had recorded three assists in the contest, pushing his point total to 42 and tying him for eighth among the NHL’s leading scorers. The 24-year-old has been Washington’s best and most consistent player through the season and many have expected him to earn his first trip to the NHL All-Star Game, not just the rookie game, later this month in Ottawa.
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