MONTREAL | It was as if reporters were speaking a foreign language when asking the Washington Capitals about Rene Bourque and the retribution they could take on the now Montreal Canadiens forward for his cheap shot on Nicklas Backstrom from Jan. 3.
“It’s two points,” coach Dale Hunter said. “Both teams need the points and you’ve got to play hockey to get the two points.”
Bourque’s elbow to Backstrom’s head two weeks ago eventually knocked the Caps’ leading scorer out of the game, and the apparent concussion he suffered has caused him to miss the past six games.
The next day, Troy Brouwer lamented not being able to give Bourque some payback because the Caps didn’t play the Calgary Flames again this season. But the Canadiens acquired the 6-foot-2 right wing Jan. 12 as part of a trade involving Mike Cammalleri.
Wednesday night’s game at Bell Centre seems like an opportunity, but Hunter and his players were saying all the right things.
“For us to say we’re going go out there and take liberties at him or something like that, probably not. I think we’ll definitely be playing hard for sure,” right wing Joel Ward said. “I’m sure guys are going to be playing pretty hard, especially against him and let him know that what he did we thought was a pretty cheap shot.”
Big defenseman John Erskine steps back into the Caps’ lineup for the first time since Jan. 9, replacing Tomas Kundratek. Hunter denied any connection between Erskine’s return and Bourque, though the 6-foot-4, 220-pound veteran is second on the team in fights this season with three.
Erskine would have rather talked about anything else other than potential vigilante justice.
“I think we have one goal tonight and it’s to get the two points. The whole thing that went on with Bourque’s not something I really want to talk about. We have more important things than that,” Erskine said. “Guys were upset, but it’s not a subject I want to talk about right now.”
Hunter as a player likely would have handled things himself. Instead, the man who set the NHL suspension record in 1993 with his 23-game ban for a cheap shot against Pierre Turgeon after a goal talked about Bourque already receiving five games from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
“Shanny hit him pretty hard with it. Unfortunate that Nicky’s still out for us. But the two points,” Hunter said.
Hunter ranks second in NHL history in penalty minutes with 3,565.
With the Caps sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and in need of victories, Hunter the coach kept coming back to that and brushing off the Bourque story line.
“It’s one of those things, if you’re battling for the playoffs and you take a bad penalty, it’s going to cost your team,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you have to think about the team first.”
Bourque on Tuesday said that he expected someone from the Caps to come after him.
“I obviously don’t feel good about what I did and I apologized for it. But I’m sure they’ll be a few guys probably coming after me,” Bourque told the Canadiens’ team website. “It’s part of the game and I just need to be prepared for it.”
Ward said retaliating against Bourque is not something that has been discussed within the locker room. But it’s one of those situations where it’s unlikely that anything has to be said.
“I’m sure some guys are definitely aware of it,” Ward said. “You definitely want to finish your checks for sure.”