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Backstrom's absence likely means Knuble back in

By Ben Raby - Correspondent

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Backstrom's absence likely means Knuble back in
With the one-game suspension handed out to Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, it appears veteran forward Mike Knuble will make his first playoff appearance this season in Game 4 against the Bruins.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the wake of Nicklas Backstrom's one-game suspension and Monday night's Game 3 loss against the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals will have a different look in Game 4 Thursday night at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC).

The most notable change to Washington's lineup could be the return of veteran Mike Knuble. Knuble has been a healthy scratch in each of the first three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series but skated alongside Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward on the Capitals' fourth line at practice Wednesday.

"As a player, you come in and you hope you can keep up with the pace of the series," Knuble said. "It's a fast, fast game out there. The intensity you feel just from watching, the intensity has been up and it's a very pivotal game -- Game 4 is usually a very exciting game. It can determine a lot in the series."

Mike Knuble
Mike Knuble
Right Wing - WSH
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
Knuble, who played for Boston from 2000-04, is coming off his least productive season in 10 years, having finished with six goals and 18 points in 72 games.

It has been a trying 2011-12 campaign for the eight-time 20-goal scorer who was relegated to Washington's fourth line by then-coach Bruce Boudreau in late October and never returned to a top-six role under Dale Hunter.

Knuble was a team-worst minus-15 in the regular season and was a healthy scratch in nine of 13 games from Feb. 9 to March 8, and again in the regular-season finale April 7.

"Just being positive now you're involved in the game," Knuble said. "When you're just watching, you can't say anything, can't do anything as far as helping your teammates and that. Now that you're here you hear what's being said on the bench, you can tell what the overall pulse of your team is and try and help.

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

Knuble's influence may be felt most in the experience department. The 39-year-old has the most Stanley Cup Playoff experience among all Washington forwards, having notched 12 goals and 27 points in 54 career playoff games. He's also one of two Capitals with a Stanley Cup ring.

"He's been around for a while, he's played a lot of playoff hockey and he's a big body that we need out there that can get in the corners and get in front of the net and cause some havoc," said Aucoin, who will shift from fourth line left wing to fourth line center in Backstrom's absence.


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"Knuble [and I] have played quite a bit this year and we've had some good chemistry, so hopefully we can bring it out there tomorrow night and help the team win."

Ward is still looking for his first point of the playoffs, after recording seven goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games with Nashville last season. Along with Knuble, Ward is expected to use his size and provide the Capitals with more of a net presence.

"We definitely do [play a similar style]," Ward said. "It is no secret. We're going to try to get in on the forecheck and create turnovers or at least sustain more pressure in their own end. … I think the job for us to make the D skate all the way back to get pucks. It isn't a secret. I think both teams know what's going on. It is just a matter of causing turnovers."

Notes: Among other changes expected to Washington's lineup as a result of Backstrom's suspension include Mathieu Perreault moving from fourth line center to second line center.

Perreault will skate alongside Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin, a trio that played together during the second half of the regular season when Backstrom was out with a concussion.

The Capitals also had a different look on the blue line at Wednesday morning's practice. Hunter broke up his third defensive pairing of Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz, and instead had Wideman paired with John Erskine and Schultz paired with rookie Dmitry Orlov.

Neither Erskine nor Orlov have dressed this series, and Erskine has played just once since Jan. 31. Erskine missed 32 of Washington's final 33 games as a healthy scratch (25 games) and due to a lower-body injury (seven games).

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman can provide the Capitals with a much-needed physical presence against a Bruins team that had 58 hits in Game 3.

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
World Cup of Hockey 2016