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Trade has Bourque facing Backstrom-less Caps again

by Martin Leclerc
BROSSARD, Que. -- The last time Rene Bourque faced the Washington Capitals, he left the game facing a near-certain suspension for elbowing center Nicklas Backstrom.

That suspension wound up being for five games, and Backstrom has not returned to action since that Jan. 3 contest.

Bourque was with the Calgary Flames back then and figured he would not face the Capitals again this season. But life in the NHL has a funny way of changing your plans.

Traded by the Flames to the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday, Bourque played his first game since the end of his suspension Sunday night.

And his second game is against none other than the Washington Capitals on Wednesday at the Bell Centre.

"I don't feel good about what I did and I apologized, but I'm sure there will be some guys coming after me. It's a part of the game, it happens to guys all the time. You just have to be prepared to have every check finished on me and who knows, whatever else." -- Rene Bourque

So, does Bourque figure he'll be targeted by Backstrom's teammates?

"Yeah, obviously," Bourque said after Canadiens practice Tuesday. "I don't feel good about what I did and I apologized, but I'm sure there will be some guys coming after me. It's a part of the game, it happens to guys all the time. You just have to be prepared to have every check finished on me and who knows, whatever else."

Bourque did not speak personally with Backstrom about what he did, hitting him with a last-second elbow to the head as they skated past each other, but he said he's hopeful the talented Capitals center comes back soon.

"Hopefully he's coming around and I wish all the best to him," Bourque said.

The Capitals, for their part, were not saying much on the prospect of facing Bourque again so soon, with Backstrom still suffering from a head injury that coach Dale Hunter described Wednesday as leaving him "day-to-day."

"It's two points," Hunter said. "Both teams need the points, and you've got to play hockey to get the two points."

Rugged defenseman John Erskine will replace rookie Tomas Kundratek in the lineup, but Hunter insisted it has nothing to do with the unique circumstance of this game.

Erskine begged off discussing it Wednesday morning.

"The whole thing that went on with Bourque is not something I really want to talk about," Erskine said. "We have more important things than that."

Capitals forward Joel Ward, however, admitted it will be on the players' minds when the two teams take the ice.


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"It was definitely a big loss, for sure, to have Nicky out of the lineup," Ward said. "But for us to say we're going to go out there and take liberties on him? Probably not."

Still, Ward suggested Bourque will be made aware of how the Capitals felt about what he did to their top center.

"Guys are going to be playing pretty hard, especially against him," Ward said. "We're going to let him know that what he did, we thought it was a pretty big cheap shot."

Bourque's situation places him in a bit of a strange situation because his teammates on Wednesday night may be called upon to support him for something that happened when he had a different uniform on his back.

If need be, his new teammates say they will be there to help Bourque out.

"It's a very important game in the standings, and I can't imagine anyone doing anything stupid in a game like this," said defenseman Josh Gorges. "We won't waste too much time on it, but if we have to, we'll support him."

Not only is the game against the Capitals a vital one for the Canadiens' unlikely playoff hopes, it kicks off a stretch of three games against teams the 12th place Habs are chasing in the standings. After hosting the eighth-place Capitals, the Canadiens will visit the seventh-place Penguins on Friday and ninth-place Maple Leafs on Saturday.

"It's a big week," Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche said. "It will give us a chance to make up some ground on those three teams. The opportunity is there, it's up to us to seize it and we need to be focused on that and nothing else."

Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said he will go with the same lineup Wednesday that beat the Rangers 4-1 at home on Sunday, meaning defenseman Chris Campoli and center Petteri Nokelainen would sit out. The one wrinkle, he added, is that Carey Price will most likely be back in goal after backup Peter Budaj made 28 saves to beat the Rangers in just his sixth start of the season.

Aside from inserting Erskine, Hunter would not confirm whether Michal Neuvirth would start in goal after Tomas Vokoun played in Washington's 3-0 home loss to the Islanders on Tuesday night.
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