- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2012

Michal Neuvirth turned aside shots in practice and looked to be showing few ill-effects from a lower-body injury suffered in the final week of the regular season. What’s not obvious is how the Washington Capitals goaltender is feeling.

“Obviously, you need a lot of painkillers and try to get through the pain,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

The pain remains for Neuvirth, but it’s not enough to keep him out of uniform any longer. While Braden Holtby is entrenched as the starter, the 24-year-old will return to backup duty for the Caps in Game 5 of the first-round series Saturday at the Boston Bruins.

He and coach Dale Hunter confirmed that Friday, hours after the team sent journeyman goalie Dany Sabourin down to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League in advance of the start of the Calder Cup playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s good to be back,” Neuvirth said. “Obviously, Sabby got to play down there, and that’s why I’ll be the backup.”

Neuvirth was injured April 5 when Florida Panthers forward Marco Sturm fell on him awkwardly. His progress has been gradual since, and it’s still not perfect.

“Obviously it’s not going to be 100 percent,” Neuvirth said. “This thing’s got to heal up over the summer, and it is what it is.”

Backstrom apologizes to Caps

Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t eager Wednesday to talk about his one-game suspension, saying it was “stupid on my part” to get that punishment for cross-checking Bruins forward Rich Peverley in the face Monday.

After the Caps managed to win Game 4 without him, Backstrom was eager to move past the ban.

“Yeah. I mean, you’ve got to think that way,” he said Friday. “I apologized in front of everybody, so I’m just looking forward. Life goes on. It’s a new game Saturday and you can’t really do anything else.”

Backstrom is expected to get thrown right back onto the top line Saturday.

“When you add a top forward in the National Hockey League back to your lineup, it helps on your penalty kill, power play and even strength,” Hunter said. “We know Nicky is a special player, we missed him all year, but when we get him back in he’s a big boost for us.”

Line rushes from Friday’s practice seemed to indicate Mike Knuble remaining in the lineup and Joel Ward coming out. Hunter said he hadn’t decided yet.

Erskine shines

John Erskine wasn’t the star of the show in Game 4, but he made an impact with some physical play. Not only did the big defenseman crush David Krejci with a hit in the third period, but he was essential at keeping the Bruins under control around the net.

“It’s nice to have a guy like Erskine back in the lineup,” Holtby said. “He hasn’t played for a while and comes with that physical edge that when guys come to the net, they’re not messing around with Ersky.”

It was Erskine’s first game since Feb. 12, and he played 11:02.

Beagle’s ‘good sting’

Teammates called Jay Beagle’s block of Johnny Boychuk’s one-timer in the final seconds of Game 4 one of the key plays of the Caps’ 2-1 victory. It hurt, knocking the wind out of the forward, but he didn’t mind.

“It hit me kind of in the chest. But it’s a good sting,” Beagle said. “That’s why I play the game. To be out there in those pivotal moments, that’s the most fun.”

Beagle has developed into a key role player in a shutdown role and on faceoffs. Part of his game, though, is getting in front of pucks.

“That’s my job, I feel like,” he said. “When the coaches put me out there in the last nine seconds, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to block that shot.”

• Game 6 at Verizon Center will be played Sunday at 3 p.m.

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

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