The Washington Capitals will try to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals without the services of their top centerman, as they host the second-seeded Boston Bruins in Game 4 tonight at the Verizon Center.
The Capitals dropped a 4-3 decision at home in Game 3 on Monday to fall behind two games to one in this series against the defending Stanley Cup champions. However, Washington wound up losing more than the contest, as Nicklas Backstrom was later suspended for one game for his actions late in the third period.
The 24-year-old Swede was given a match penalty for attempting to injure Bruins forward Rich Peverley at the buzzer in Game 3. Backstrom approached Peverley and cross-checked his opponent in the head. Backstrom has one goal and one assist in three games during this series and is also leading all Washington forwards with an average of 23 minutes, 6 seconds of ice time per game.
Veteran forward Mike Knuble expects to replace Backstrom in the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch for the first three games of the series. The 39- year-old Knuble had six goals and 12 assists in 72 games this season.
After splitting a pair of overtime decisions in Boston in Games 1 and 2, the Bruins used a goal from captain Zdeno Chara late in regulation to make sure extra time wasn't needed in Game 3. The bruising Boston defenseman scored the tie-breaking goal with 1:53 remaining in the third period to lift the Bruins.
Chara assisted on two other goals for the Bruins, who also got 29 saves from Tim Thomas. Boston and Washington combined for just four goals in the first two games, with the defending Stanley Cup champions winning the opener, 1-0, in overtime and the Capitals prevailing, 2-1, in double-overtime.
"It was big for us to start scoring," Thomas said. "Unfortunately they started scoring a little bit more, too. But at the end of the game we had one more than they did."
Alex Ovechkin posted a goal and an assist for Washington in the Game 3 loss. He now has 26 career playoff goals to move into sole possession of second place on the Capitals' all-time list. He passed Dale Hunter, Washington's current head coach, and trails only Peter Bondra (30).
Brooks Laich notched a goal and two assists in the setback, while Alexander Semin also scored. Braden Holtby struggled a bit in net, stopping 25-of-29 shots for Washington.
The 22-year-old Holtby has been forced into a starting role in this series thanks injuries to Tomas Vokoun (groin) and Michal Neuvirth (left leg). Washington's third-string netminder has been backed up by Dany Sabourin in the first three games, but that could change tonight if Neuvirth, who participated in a full practice on Wednesday, is able to suit up. However, even if Neuvirth is ready to go tonight, Hunter has said he will stick with the Holtby.
The Caps won three of four meetings against Boston during the regular season and the Bruins and Washington have split a pair of all-time playoff meetings. The last time the clubs met in the postseason was in the 1998 conference quarterfinals when Washington won in six games en route to their first and only Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
Game 5 of this series is set for Saturday afternoon in Boston.