On a night that should have centered around the Washington Capitals recording their fourth consecutive win and continuing on their recent roll of strong play, the team’s victory was overshadowed by a potential injury to leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom.
Near the midway point of the third period in Washington’s 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, Backstrom was elbowed in the head by Rene Bourque. Three shifts later, the team removed its top center from the game.
Backstrom did not speak to reporters after the game because he was being evaluated by team doctors.
“We removed him from the game, it was precautionary,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He was getting evaluated right now. We’ll know more [Wednesday].”
Bourque received an elbowing penalty on the play that sent Backstrom to the bench where he sat hunched over, talking with Capitals head athletic trainer Greg Smith and teammates. Backstrom returned to the ice for the start of the ensuing power play and took two more shifts before leaving the game with 3 minutes 19 seconds remaining.
Prior to absorbing the elbow, Backstrom was having a stellar outing with three assists against the Flames to move into a tie for eighth place among the NHL’s scoring leaders.
While it was unclear immediately after the game if Backstrom was injured on 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.”
Bourque was suspended for two games in December for hitting Chicago’s Brent Seabrook from behind. After Tuesday’s game, he seemed unaware he had elbowed Backstrom.
“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.”
The elbow against Backstrom soured what had developed into another strong outing for Washington (21-15-2). Mike Green returned to the lineup after missing 23 consecutive games with a strained right groin muscle and it only took 71 seconds for the Capitals to take a lead.
Washington drew a holding penalty just 36 seconds into the contest and cashed in on the ensuing power play when Backstrom began a nifty passing play on the right wing boards.
Johansson received the puck in the slot and found Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer in the usual spot — the left faceoff circle, creeping toward the slot — that put Washington up 1-0.
It marked Ovechkin’s seventh goal in the past seven games. He added an assist later in the game to increase his point total to 11 in that same span.
“We just want to win every game,” Ovechkin said. “This is too good group to be in the middle of nowhere. We just want to be in playoffs, we want to be on top of everybody.”
The Capitals controlled the play and held the Flames (18-18-5) to just four shots in the first period. But the light workload wasn’t a problem for goaltender Tomas Vokoun; he finished with 18 saves. In the first seven minutes of the second, the veteran goaltender held Calgary at bay, thwarting a handful of chances including a one-timer by Olli Jokinen in the slot and a blocker save on Bourque, who was streaking down the left wing unobstructed.
When Washington received its second power play of the evening – a holding call against Chris Butler 8:29 into the second period — it needed just 20 seconds to increase the lead.
Camped out on the top of the crease, Troy Brouwer found a loose rebound after a shot by Ovechkin and found a small space between Miikka Kiprusoff’s left skate and the post to make it 2-0.
A goal by Curtis Glencross with just over six minutes remaining in the frame cut the lead to 2-1 but Washington responded.
With 17:01 elapsed in the second, the Capitals took a 3-1 edge on a goal by Dennis Wideman. The play began when Johansson attempted to split the Calgary defense but wound up falling as he drew three opposing players toward him. Backstrom then scooped up the puck, skated behind the net and passed to Wideman for a one-timer that marked the defenseman’s second goal in as many games.
“We’re playing good the way we are and I think Dale’s system is working very good,” said Johansson, who finished with a pair of assists. “When everybody’s doing it 100 percent that’s when we’re successful, I think we’ve done it now for the last week or so. I think that’s a big important thing for us throughout the whole year.”
Capitals notes: Alexander Semin missed the game with what an NHL source described as neck pain. He is listed as day-to-day. . . . Jeff Schultz and Mathieu Perreault were healthy scratches.