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Capitals take their lumps

They don’t agree with suspension

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 19, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Va. - Not having top center Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup isn’t anything new for the Washington Capitals.

The 24-year-old pivot missed 40 games this season because of a concussion he suffered Jan. 3.

But missing Game 4 Thursday night against the Bruins will mark a first for Backstrom: He will serve his first career suspension as a result of his stick to the head of Bruins forward Rich Peverley at the end of Game 3 Monday.

The match penalty Backstrom was assessed comes with an automatic one-game banishment, and late Tuesday night, NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan upheld the ruling.

The Capitals issued a statement Wednesday saying they disagreed with the suspension.

Coach Dale Hunter and his players said that, as unfortunate as the suspension is, they weren’t going to focus on what they don’t have, only on what they do.

“Definitely, we’re going to miss him,’’ said Hunter. “We don’t think he should be suspended but [the league’s] side says he gets suspended for one game,’’ said Hunter. “It’s disappointing but again, he’s suspended, it’s in the history books, we have to concentrate [on Thursday night].’’

Hunter said Tuesday that the Bruins were targeting Backstrom’s head and the player was just defending himself.

For his part, Backstrom didn’t have a lot to say on the subject but conceded that his temper got the better of him.

“It was stupid on my part and I’ve got to deal with it now,’’ he said. “I mean, one game, I don’t like it or whatever, but I’ve got to deal with it, so it is what it is.’’

Asked if he felt the Bruins were targeting his head, Backstrom said, “A little bit. But that’s how the playoffs [are]. But I like when it’s tough and stuff like that.’’

Backstrom said that what got his dander up was that he felt Peverley was going after Washington captain Alex Ovechkin.

“He was going after Ovey at first,’’ said Backstrom. “And then I was just turning around. That’s all I can say. I’m sorry about that and it was stupid on my part.’’

Mathieu Perreault will move into Backstrom’s spot, on a line with Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin, and former Bruin Mike Knuble, who was a healthy scratch in the first three games, is expected to make his 2012 playoff debut.

“It’s unfortunate for us,’’ said Knuble, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will turn 40 July 4. “It happened at the end of the game, and the game is already over.

“Nicky had a tough night and was the target of a lot of stuff after the whistle, and I guess he was defending himself. You can’t blame a guy - he’s been out 40 games with a head issue - wanting to defend himself and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ ’’

In such a pivotal game, with the Capitals down, two games to one, Knuble said he just wants to contribute in any way he can. His strength throughout his career has been his net-front presence, which Washington could certainly use in front of Tim Thomas.

“As a player, you come in and you hope you can keep up with the pace of the series,’’ said Knuble. “It’s a fast game out there. You can feel just from watching, the intensity has been upped.

“It’s a very pivotal game. Game 4 is usually a very deciding game. It can determine a lot in a series.

“You just want to try to even the series and do what you can in whatever role it is, if you play two minutes or you play 20 minutes. You try to do your best and just try to be a positive influence on the team.’’

Knuble has plenty of experience to offer. He has logged 1,040 regular-season games and will be suiting up for playoff game No. 55. He has 27 points in 54 postseason contests, with six of his 12 playoff goals coming in the last three seasons over a span of 19 games.

“When you’re not [playing], you’re just watching, you can’t say anything or do anything as far as helping your teammates,’’ said Knuble. “Now you hear what is being said on the bench and you can tell what the overall pulse of the team is and try to help.’’

Hunter said his team needs to band together and overcome the adversity of not having Backstrom and being down a game.

“We’ve just got to play through it,’’ he said. “It’s up to the referees to do their job and protect players on the ice, and so we just have to play.

“You can’t take bad penalties, either. You’ve got to be responsible and play the game the right way.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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