It has been quite a challenge for the Washington Capitals to stave off elimination twice, but now they will have to try to complete the comeback without enforcer Donald Brashear.
The NHL suspended Brashear six games Monday for two incidents from Sunday's Game 6 - five games for a late hit on New York Rangers center Blair Betts in the first period and one for a pregame altercation with Colton Orr.
Brashear will begin serving the suspension in Tuesday night's Game 7; it would continue in the next round if the Caps win. If they lose, Brashear would miss the first five games of next season. He's slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
In warmups, Brashear shoved Orr at center ice after the players exchanged words. Midway through the first period, Brashear drilled Betts at center ice several seconds after the puck had gone down the ice. Betts suffered a broken orbital bone and is out indefinitely. The league has been trying to crack down on hits to the head, and the Caps enforcer will not have a chance to appeal.
"Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player," Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations, said in a statement. "It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."
A team spokesman said neither Brashear nor general manager George McPhee would comment. After Sunday's victory, Brashear said he leveled Betts "because he had the puck and I felt like hitting the guy."
"It's tough to call," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday morning before the suspension was announced. "Sometimes I think there's suspensions, and there's not. Sometimes I think there's none, and there is. They have different views on it sometimes than I do."
Brashear's suspension likely means captain Chris Clark will play for the first time since Jan. 27. Though the forward has missed significant time with a wrist injury, he and Michael Nylander were healthy scratches the past few games. Nylander said Boudreau had not talked to him about playing, but Clark said his coach's message was simple: "Be ready."
"Hopefully I have a little more legs than the Rangers have, and maybe I can add some kind of speed," said Clark, whose last playoff game was Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals with Calgary.
Artem Anisimov, whom the Rangers recalled from their AHL affiliate Monday, likely will take Betts' place as the fourth-line center.
ESPN, Green pranked
Boudreau and the Caps expected discipline for Brashear, but Mike Green got a scare Monday morning when ESPN's "SportsCenter" reported Green and Brashear had been banned for Game 7, citing The Washington Post.
One problem: No report existed. The network received a prank call purporting to be from someone at The Post, went with the story, then quickly retracted it.
"Our news desk received a call from someone representing themselves as from The Washington Post. We did not follow our own fact-checking procedures and mistakenly reported the story. When we did the proper reporting we amended it," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
A biting response
After Sunday's game, Rangers assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld - filling in for suspended coach John Tortorella - accused Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn of biting Brandon Dubinsky. Morrisonn denied the charge Monday and said he had no idea why Schoenfeld said that.
"I don't know what to say; that's not what happened. I didn't do that or anything like that," Morrisonn said. "Basically [Green] got hit from behind, [and] I came in helping out my partner. We were all tied up, and everyone was tied up, so nothing really. I got a roughing penalty - that was it."
At the Rangers' practice in New York, Dubinsky reasserted the claim that Morrisonn bit him. But Boudreau echoed Morrisonn's claim of innocence - citing his chance to check the video evidence.
"I looked at it from every different angle, and I didn't see a thing," Boudreau said. "To me, it's a moot point, and let's move on."