ARLINGTON, VA – It would be natural for the Bruins to start relaxing now that gifted playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom is suspended for Game 4 on Thursday night.
Backstrom led all Washington forwards with an average of 23:06 of ice time per night in the first three games of the series, and had a goal and an assist while playing an active role.
So while it’s true the Capitals got used to life without Backstrom when he missed 40 games because of a concussion this season – and it’s also true the Caps beat the Bruins a couple of times without their center – Washington does lose something significant with Mathieu Perreault skating in his place.
That means the B’s will be on high alert for overconfidence, and need to be mindful of taking the Caps a little too lightly now that they’ve seemingly got a grasp of the tenor of the series.
“Obviously the league suspended Backstrom with what they felt was the appropriate amount of games and it’s over and done with,” said Milan Lucic. “With him out of the lineup and with him being a big part of their team, our mindset is that we can’t take them lightly at all.
“They battled a lot of the end of the season without him and played well without him. So they’re still going to bring their best because it’s a big game for both teams.”
The gravity of Game 4 should be enough to keep the Bruins focused on the task at hand, and it’s something the veteran players know can tip the balance of the series.
“As a player you hope you can come in and keep up with the pace of the game” said Washington's Mike Knuble, who has played in plenty of Game 4 scenarios with the Bruins and with the Caps over the years. “It’s a very pivotal point [in the series] and Game 4 can be a very decisive game. A lot of things can turn on that. We just want to even the series and play whatever role I can whether it’s two minutes or 20 minutes.”
There’s the additional motivation provided by accusations of headhunting and “crossing the line” by the Washington coaching staff. But most of that is he said/he said stuff, and both clubs are expected to bring their best in a game that could give the Bruins a chokehold on the series if they take home a victory.
“I think right now both teams are really focused on being at their best and that’s what makes a series interesting," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "No matter what is happening here as far as a rivalry is concerned -- the emotions and everything else -- I think there’s still that respect that exists between the two teams. We know that they’re a good team. We’re not just saying it.
“We know it. We respect that and that’s why we know we have to be at our best and that we got to keep improving. I’m pretty sure they feel the same way.”
The Capitals will be missing their best playmaker operating at a surprisingly high level coming off a concussion, and the Bruins are starting to set the thumping tone in the series. It would be easy to start thinking Game 4 is in the bank, but that would be a big mistake indeed.