While the main focus for Washington will be replacing Nicklas Backstrom up front as he serves a one-game suspension for cross-checking Bruins forward Rich Peverley, reports out of Washington hint that the Capitals might be making changes on their blue line as well.
Perhaps in response to the nastiness on display in Game 3, Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com reported that John Erskine practiced on a pairing with Dennis Wideman on Wednesday and appears poised to make his first appearance in the series and first appearance in the Washington lineup period since Feb. 12. Jeff Schultz was the odd man out in the Capitals' top six.
Erskine dressed for just one of the Caps' last 33 games in the regular season, playing 28 games overall with two assists. Erskine fell into coach Dale Hunter's doghouse after taking three minor penalties on one play against Montreal on Jan. 18, and at one point in March he noted that he had not even spoken with Hunter since that game.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder managed to accumulate 51 penalty minutes and three fighting majors in his limited ice time this season. He has 61 fighting majors and 775 PIMs in 424 career games, and could give the Caps some much-needed muscle. Washington was 26th in the NHL this year with just 26 fighting majors as a team, less than half of Boston's total as the Bruins finished second in the league with 61.
The closest thing the Caps have to a legitimate heavyweight, Erskine has tangled with both Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic twice in the past. He handed Lucic a rare decisive defeat in Lucic's rookie season back in 2007-08, while their rematch early in the 2010-11 season was more even.
"He's a big, strong guy in front of the net," Hunter told reporters after his club's practice on Wednesday. "You know Ersky, he keeps his game simple. He takes the body and he's an honest player."
Erskine's potential addition to the lineup could raise the stakes physically after a chippy game that featured not only Backstrom's cross-check on Peverley, but also Jason Chimera's spear to Brad Marchand's groin and Karl Alzner mocking Lucic with a crybaby motion after a scrum in which Alzner jumped Lucic from behind while the burly Bruins winger was already engaged with Caps tough guy Matt Hendricks.
Alzner, in particular, could be looking for some protection after Lucic, who grew up playing with and against the Caps defenseman in Vancouver, didn't take kindly to Alzner's gesture.
"That's a lot coming from a guy I think who's got two roughing penalties in three years," Lucic told WEEI.com in Washington after the game. "So there you go."
And now the Capitals may just go and put in a guy a little more comfortable with the rough stuff. Though Erskine may even the playing field a bit in that regard, the Bruins probably won't complain. They thrive whenever things get physical, and Washington may be playing into Boston's hands if they try to turn this into a battle with fists.