Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference (21) collides with Washington Capitals left wing Troy Brouwer (20) during the third period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Washington. The Bruins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
ARLINGTON, Va. - Alex Ovechkin shrugged his shoulders while offering his take on the suspension that will keep centre Nicklas Backstrom out of Washington's lineup Thursday for Game 4 of its NHL playoff series against Boston.
"Sometimes you think it's (the) right decision. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes you want to laugh," the two-time league MVP and Capitals captain said. "So right now, I think it's kind of (a) bad decision. But there is nothing you can do."
Well, trailing the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins 2-1 heading into a game the Capitals "have to win," to use Ovechkin's phrase, seventh-seeded Washington did set about trying to win the off-ice word games Wednesday.
There was the front office's statement that it doesn't understand the league's punishment of Backstrom. There were forward Jason Chimera's declarations that Washington's players aren't wimps, that Boston embellishes fouls, and that Bruins goalie Tim Thomas should have been banned for a game for using his blocker to hit Backstrom in the face in Game 2. And there were coach Dale Hunter's criticism of the officiating and a reference to his earlier charge that the Bruins targeted the head of Backstrom, who returned to the lineup March 31 after missing 40 games because of a concussion.
Then again, the strongest statements of all came from Boston coach Claude Julien, who was asked to respond to Hunter's comments.
"That doesn't make sense. I don't know any coach that would tell his team to go after somebody's head," Julien said. "It's ludicrous; it's ridiculous. OK?"
Julien then referred to Backstrom's stick-in-the-face match penalty as the third cross-check by the Capitals during the series, and added: "But we're not whining about the referees and what's going on here. We need to win a game and we need to win a series and that's where our focus is on. That's what it should be."
Asked about the targeting charge, Bruins forward Milan Lucic said: "Just because a guy's injured doesn't mean you go out of your way to re-injure him, but you don't go out of your way to be light on him. You still have to play against him like you would any other player."
During a one-minute, three-question session with reporters, Backstrom acknowledged his cross-check of Rich Peverley at the end of Boston's 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Monday "was stupid on my part, and I've got to deal with it now."
Asked whether Hunter was right that the Bruins were aiming for his head, Backstrom answered: "A little bit, but that's how the playoffs is. I like when it's tough and stuff like that. So there's nothing bad about that."
In explaining Tuesday why he thought Backstrom deserved to avoid punishment, Hunter said the player was trying to protect himself. Hunter also brought that up Wednesday, saying: "Lucic going after his head again—Nicky's head—stuff like that. But we just have to play through it. It's up to the referees to do their job and protect the players on the ice."
Later, Hunter also pointed out that the Bruins were "definitely" offside on the rush that eventually produced the winning goal in Game 3, saying referees "do miss stuff" and that "was a bad call."
The Capitals took on the league office with a statement reading: "We disagree with the NHL's decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom. 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."
In a rambling Q-and-A with reporters, Chimera said the Capitals "did some stupid stuff last game that you can't do; I mean, we can't take stupid penalties"; accused Bruins centre Brad Marchand of "diving and stuff like that"; and noted that the Capitals have "guys that can drop the gloves and are not scared to drop the gloves."
NOTES: In pointing out that a goalie using his blocker to injure a player should draw a match penalty, Chimera said, "I don't read the rule book every night—it's not like it's my Bible—but it's certainly there." ... Washington D Karl Alzner explained his "crybaby" gesture directed at Lucic, saying: "We all know he's one of the toughest guys in the league. It was more just (about) a lot of guys complaining about calls." ... Capitals G Tomas Vokoun said an MRI exam showed he had "a pretty severe tear" of the groin muscle that has sidelined him since he left a game on March 29. Asked what the timetable for healing might be, Vokoun said: "Honestly, I have no idea." ... Capitals F Mike Knuble is expected to fill the spot opened by Backstrom's suspension; Knuble last appeared in a game on April 5. ... Washington D John Erskine is set to play for the first time since Feb. 12, replacing Jeff Schultz in the lineup. Erskine had 51 penalty minutes and took 20 shots in 28 games in the regular season.
Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich or hfendrich(at)ap.org