backstrom suspended for pivotal game 4

(photo by Clyde Caplan)

As you’ve heard by now, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was suspended for one game after receiving a match penalty in the final seconds of Game 3 against the Boston Bruins.

Unfortunately for Backstrom, that particular penalty carries an automatic suspension and Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, decided not to rescind the one-game ban because, in his words, the talented Swede “attempted to injure Boston forward Rich Peverley with a cross check to the head.”

Even though Peverly was not injured on the play and Backstrom has never been in trouble with the league a day in his life, Shanahan let the suspension stand because felt the play was “excessive and reckless.”

And just like that, the Capitals now head into a game they can’t afford to lose without one of their top offensive players.

Look, I’m not in the business of crying about officiating because it’s an exercise in futility and every fan of every team in every sport swears the refs are “out to get them.”

And yet, the more I think about this suspension, the more it pisses me off.

Anyone who has watched the Caps-Bruins series knows it’s been tough and physical. Both teams have tried to send a message by dishing out punishing blows whenever possible and you’d be hard pressed to find a 60-second span in one of these games that didn’t involve a player from one of the two teams trying to deliver a kill shot to the opposition.

While a majority of the physical play should simply be filed under “playoff hockey,” there’s not a lot of love between the Caps and Bruins and players routinely need to be separated at each and every stoppage in play. Again, this is standard procedure in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But my issue throughout this opening-round series has been just how often Boston players appear to openly target Backstrom’s head.

Considering he’s one of the NHL’s elite players and, oh by the way, was forced out of action for 40 games earlier this season because of a concussion, it’s not too much to ask that the league spend a little extra time and energy ensuring he’s not knocked out of action yet another cheapshot.

Which is why my blood boils every time I see a classless player like Milan Lucic or Brad Marchand or another Bruin repeatedly grabbing, jabbing or throwing haymakers at Backstrom’s head.

Bruins players have thrown him to the ice during a stoppage in play (Lucic), they’ve grabbed him by the visor (Patrice Bergeron) and, hell, goalie Tim Thomas even sucker-punched Backstrom in the head earlier this series.*

*Comcast Sportsnet has put together a “greatest hits” of Bruins cheapshots on Backstrom here.

So if you’re wondering how a mild-mannered player such as Backstrom would lose his cool to a point where he’d take three penalties in a single game, it’s probably a safe bet he finally snapped after three straight games of Bruins cheapshots to his head going unnoticed.

Seriously, Backstrom was assessed 16 minutes in penalties in Game 3. That’s the same number of penalty minutes he had been whistled for in his previous 29 games. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who had served just 18 minutes in penalties in his previous 39 career playoff games.

To say this was completely out of character for Backstrom would be a vast understatement.

“It is crossing the line,” Hunter said. “To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play.”

When he was asked, point blank, if he the Bruins are targeting Backstrom’s head, Hunter emphatically replied: “Oh, yeah.”

“If you noticed it, every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on. He gets blockered to the head by Thomas the game before,” Hunter said. “So he’s protecting his head.”

And Hunter isn’t alone in thinking Backstrom decided to finally take matters into his own hands because no one else cared to do so.

“There’s been a couple times where they’ve gone after his head and grabbed him and thrown him to the ice,” said forward Troy Brouwer. “So I can understand why Nicky is a little bit nervous about when sticks come up.”

So now the Capitals will once again be forced to take the ice without their top center. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing that they can do about it now.

You’d like to think that if the Caps avoid stooping down to Boston’s level and refused to retaliate with dirty plays of their own, that the officiating would reward them. Of course, they tried that strategy for he most part in the first two games and things didn’t play out that way.

In Game 3, the Caps did their best Michael Douglas in Falling Down impression and finally snapped. Backstrom tried to take a man’s head off. Jason Chimera speared a dude in the beanbag. Karl Alzner taunted Lucic.

And while it made for compelling television, it played right into the opponent’s hands.

No one will ever be able to out-douchebag Boston, so the Capitals are foolish to even contemplate getting into that pissing contest. If Washington is going to be able to tie the series back up, they’re going to have to do so by getting back to what worked in the first two games.

Even if the officials continue to let the Bruins goon it up without fear of consequence, that’s not how this Capitals team is going to win this series.

Play your game and don’t participate in the extracurricular activities. Pass up the chance to retaliate and just walk away.

It’s easier said than done in the heat of the battle, but that whole “turning the other cheek” nonsense is probably the only way the Caps are going to be able to rally back and send these Bruins to an early playoff exit.


  1. ExKiwi Krol
    April 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Utter bullpoop. I can’t say anything inane on this.

    At least international soccer isn’t corrupt.

  2. luke
    April 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

    When i was little and i cried about pointless things (like not going to see Empire Strikes Back a second time) my father would look me right in the eye and say this exact phrase “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to really cry about. Cause i wouldn’t want you to waste your tears.”

    Well, i think we need to give the league something to really cry about because i wouldn’t want Shanahan’s estimation of what the words “excessive and reckless” to sink any lower.

    And on a side note, I’m sorry to bring this up AGAIN… but when you think about what neal did to also merit only one game, and what Weber did (to a european) to merit zero games… I can’t help but think that this is yet another example of the subtle nationalism that pervades the NHL.

    36 referees on file. 30 Canadians. 5 Americans. 1 Swede and he’s half nhl-ahl.

    34 linesman on file. 27 Canadians. 7 Americans. 0 Europeans.

  3. MRF
    April 18, 2012 at 9:18 am

    No one can out douchebag the Bruins? I would have them as 3 point underdogs against Philly in the douchebag bowl.

  4. luke
    April 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

    And honestly, what no one really seems to be saying is that, its not so much the one game suspension as that it came within less an hour of neal’s ALSO-ONE-GAME-SUSPENSION FOR TRYING TO CURB STOMP TWO FLYERS…

    and btw, flyers can definitely out douche-bag the bruins and believe you me…this flyers team is the real fucking deal and there is going to be a fucking reckoning in boston when that series starts.

  5. viggler
    April 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Andrew Shaw got three games for trying to miss Mike Smith. Let’s see if Raffi Torres gets at least the same thing for leaping off the ice and sending Marion Hossa off on a stretcher.

  6. Eric
    April 18, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I recall a few years back when the league decided if you get an instigator penalty in the last 5 minutes of the game, it was an automatic suspension. Coincidentally, Evgeni Malkin got said penalty with less than one minute remaining for being the third man in and punching someone in the face. The league decided that it was a one time thing and, I quote, all star evgeni malkin will not be penalized further.

    Fuck officials in the nhl

  7. Krol2
    April 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Are we all forgetting Oveckin is the dirtiest player in the NHL?

    I don’t know how Marchand can stand up, ever. He is so top heavy with that nose he is the opposite of a Weeble.

  8. david pierce
    April 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    clearly nicklas backstrom is a hockey thug who needed to be sent a precise message; the nhl will not tolerate players sticking up for themselves when they’ve come back after a lengthy concussion due to a stand up athlete like rene bourque throwing blatant elbows. good on the nhl.

    effing bullshit.

  9. Al
    April 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Love your website, but I have to disagree with you here. The Bruins are a physical scrapping team. You said yourself that both teams have been exchanging blows. This is playoff hockey. I see nothing wrong with how the Bruins are playing this series. They are being aggressive. The Caps need to suck it up, and give it back, while obviously following the rules and avoiding suspension. I love this kind of hockey. This is how it should be. Stick up for your teammates and don’t take crap from anyone. Go and get it.

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