One day after forward Rene Bourque, then of the Calgary Flames, connected with an elbow to the jaw of Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, a hit that has kept Backstrom out of action since, Backstrom’s teammates voiced their disappointment that they would not be able to exact revenge.
“It’s one of those things where it kind of sucks because we’re not able to play [the Flames] again this year,” Troy Brouwer said January 4.
“If I had got a chance to get on the ice, I would have said something to [Bourque],” John Erskine added.
Yet, in almost serendipitous fashion, the Flames traded Bourque to the Montreal Canadiens January 12, six days before the Caps would face them for the first time this season. Just 1:15 into that game January 18, Matt Hendricks sought out Bourque and the two fought. While the NHL punished Bourque for his hit on Backstrom by suspending him for five games, hockey is a unique sport because players can police themselves. The Caps handed out their own version of vigilante justice and Bourque took his proverbial medicine.
Based on comments from recent call-up and enforcer Joel Rechlicz Thursday, however, perhaps Washington feels as if Bourque needs to further repent when it visits Montreal Saturday.
“Yeah, I heard it was a cheap shot,” Rechlicz said when asked if he was aware of the initial hit. “Hopefully I’m in the lineup for that game.”
When the Caps recalled and signed Rechlicz – the AHL’s far-and-away leader in penalty minutes with 184 – Monday, the move definitely raised some eyebrows. After taking a total of six shifts for just 4:26 in the Caps’ two most recent games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers Tuesday and Wednesday, Rechlicz’s call-up was further questioned. Yet, after Rechlicz’s comments Thursday, the speculation behind the team’s reasoning to call him up is now much clearer.
One could assume that Rechlicz’s new teammates have briefed him on what transpired January 3 and now it is his duty to seek vengeance for Backstrom. Rechlicz also said Thursday that he would “run a guy through the glass [and] force him to fight” if need be, so if Rechlicz is indeed in the lineup Saturday as he wishes, his sole purpose will likely be to go after Bourque.
If and when that happens, however, Bourque has absolutely no obligation to fight back. If Bourque did not play or fight January 18, having Rechlicz (or any member of the Caps) go after him would make sense. Yet, Bourque already did what he was obligated to do by dropping the gloves with the first guy that asked him to. While it may be hard for the Caps and their fans to fathom, Bourque did the right and respectful thing by answering the bell with Hendricks.
Backstrom is still out because of Bourque’s negligence, but while fighting and attempting to hurt Bourque might temporarily satiate the Caps’ collective bloodlust, no amount of altercations will bring Backstrom back any faster.
Bourque should not be a dead man. He should be a dead issue.