- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2012

A year ago, Mike Knuble played with pins in his broken right hand to get on the ice in the playoffs. But for stretches this season, he couldn’t get into the Washington Capitals’ lineup even when healthy.

“Just the way it went, it was just very frustrating, very disappointing just because you have higher standards for yourself and what you feel you can achieve,” Knuble said recently. “And then when you don’t achieve those, you’re very disappointed.”

Knuble got his chance for a taste of playoff hockey this time around Thursday night, replacing the suspended Nicklas Backstrom for Game 4 against the Boston Bruins. As one of two players on the team with a Stanley Cup ring (Troy Brouwer, Chicago 2010 being the other), teammates know his experience is invaluable.

“He brings a lot of leadership just in the room, talking before games, and helping out,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “He’s a guy that works hard, and the playoffs fit right into his game.”

It’s possible this is the final game of the 39-year-old’s career, if Backstrom’s return Saturday bumps him back out and he can’t crack the lineup for however long the Caps’ run lasts.

Knuble knows his role is to grind on the fourth line and try to wear down the Bruins’ defense.

“If you play two minutes, if you play 20 minutes, you just do your best and try to be a positive influence on the team,” he said.

Erskine returns

John Erskine flashed a gap-toothed smile and joked that two months’ worth of bag skates had him more than physically ready for his return in Game 4. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman hadn’t played since Feb. 12 and was itching to see action.

“Well, I’ve been like that since Game 1,” he said. “No, it’s definitely my style of game, the physical and the ruggedness of the series so far.”

Erskine replaced Jeff Schultz with the hope he could deliver his own toughness against a physical Bruins team.

“If anything were to get out of hand, Ersk would be our guy to stand up for us,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s the only guy on our team, except for [Matt Hendricks], that really will fight on a consistent basis. You know, playoff hockey, you don’t really think a whole lot of bad things will happen, but if it does, it’s nice to have Ersky.”

Alzner on crybaby gesture

Bruins forward Milan Lucic jabbed at Alzner after Game 3 when the Caps defenseman made a crybaby gesture toward him in the third period, quipping that it was coming from a guy with two roughing penalties in three years.

Alzner took a chance Wednesday to explain what he really meant.

“My actions weren’t calling him a baby. We all know he’s one of the toughest guys in the league,” Alzner said. “It was more just a lot of guys complaining about calls out there, and there’s nothing we can do about the calls once they’re made. …

“It was more than it was meant to be. Guys get intense and heated, and I’m sure he understands.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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