BUFFALO — David Backes, suspended Friday night for three games for delivering an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey’s Blake Coleman, eschewed his right to appeal to the NHL commissioner’s office and will not be eligible to play in Tuesday’s outdoor Winter Classic at Notre Dame.
“We’ll get to South Bend for practice [Sunday],” said Backes, who served the first game of his suspension on Saturday night against the Sabres. “Then have some family come in town and enjoy the Winter Classic from a different perspective than maybe we thought we were a day ago.”
Backes, 34, ultimately was convinced that league commissioner Gary Bettman would not overturn, or shorten, the suspension announced early Friday evening by the Department of Player Safety, the governing body in charge of the league’s supplemental discipline process.
“Well, let’s say I get to appeal something,” Backes said to a group of reporters after skating in an optional workout on Saturday morning at KeyBank Center, “but it’s a decision you made and I appeal it to your boss — Do you think your boss is going to throw you under the bus and change that in any meaningful way? I think that’s a fallacy.”
Backes was suspended three games last March for a drive-by swipe of Detroit’s Frans Nielsen along the boards, which all but assured the Department of Player Safety of tagging him with at least three games for the hit on Coleman. Based on the prior hit, Backes could have been charged with four games or more.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, a healthy scratch the last three games, took Backes’s roster spot, centering a line with Ryan Donato and Noel Acciari.
Backes will also miss Thursday’s matchup at TD Garden vs. the Flames. He will be able to play again next Saturday when the Sabres visit the Garden.
“You never know how those are going to go,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, asked his opinion of the Backes suspension. “So for me, I try not to have [an opinion], to be honest with you. Keep it internal. It’s unfortunate. We lose David for three games . . . we have had some hits go our way when guys did get off the hook and some that got suspended. So it’s just one of those things and we’ll try to get the next-man-up mentality.”
Backes, with a meager 3-7—10 line through 33 games, showed a little more offensive pop of late, collecting four assists over five games prior to Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Devils.
An earnest Backes, particularly sensitive to head injuries after “suffering three concussions over the last ninth months alone,” made it clear in his hearing with the Department of Player Safety on Friday that his intention was not to land a heavy hit on Coleman’s head.
“Time and score, it’s 4-2 and I’m on the ice with [Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand],” said Backes, noting his primary concern late in the third period was to try to score. “That’s not the time to be looking for a momentum-changing hit when we’ve got some momentum and we’re in the [offensive] zone and we just had a scoring chance — rebound to the high slot. We think it’s going to be a race for the puck, and all of a sudden I am second to it and looking to stop him from skating out of the zone and putting it in an empty net.”
Backes did not try to deny his contact to Coleman’s head — clearly evident on the videotape. It was, in fact, a more blatant smack than the one he put on Nielsen in March.
“There is certainly some contact to the head,” he said. “There’s a little bit of contact with a glove and a shoulder right before that — then he pops back up and scores an empty-netter maybe a minute later. The force of the play is not enough for a concussion spotter to pull him out of the game, or a trainer to pull him out of the game, or a ref to pull him out of the game at that point. And he’s back a shift later to score a goal, which I think is great he’s not injured.”
Causing injury, stressed Backes, is the last thing on his mind.
“Especially with my injury issues, concussion-related, mostly, more than I can count on my fingers,” he said. “I checked on him after the game. He was fine and he got some vindication there with the empty-net goal . . . not the way the league saw it. They saw it as a high hit to the head that was avoidable. I need to go through the body. And with a prior history you get a little bit more scrutiny, and here we sit with three games.”
Backes will forfeit more than 3 percent of his $6 million salary, $219,512.19 of his pay, to be applied to the NHL Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
View from the bench
Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, two of the Bruins’ top players on offense and defense, respectively, remained sidelined by injury. According to Cassidy, one or both could be back in uniform to face the Blackhawks at the Winter Classic.
“We are not ruling them out,” Cassidy said before the Bruins’ 3-2 victory over the Sabres in overtime. “They’re both on the trip for a reason.”
The Bruins have not disclosed their injuries. McAvoy suffered a lower-body injury earlier in the week and was not in the lineup Thursday vs. the Devils. Marchand, said Cassidy, did not feel well prior to Thursday’s game, then did not play after taking a high hit along the boards late in the game against New Jersey.
Rask likely for Winter Classic
Tuukka Rask’s strong game (26 stops) makes him the likely starter in South Bend. He last posted back-to-back wins on Dec. 9-11 . . . Danton Heinen, who began the night as left wing on Boston’s No. 1 line, spent some 16 minutes on the bench in the first period. When the night ended, he logged a game-low 8:05 in ice time. With midseason approaching, and his line an anemic 4-6—10, he may be looking at an AHL Providence refresher course, particularly once Marchand and Backes are back in uniform . . . Sabres star Jack Eichel, ex- of BU, managed but one shot on net, missed with two others and finished 0-0—0 and minus-1 for the night.
David Pastrnak led the Bruins in total attempts (12) and landed four on net, one fewer than the five each from Chris Wagner, Bergeron and Noel Acciari….The Bruins finished with 42 shots on net, the sixth time this season they have reached the 40-shot plateau . . . David Krejci, 0-0—0 and minus-2, was blanked for a fourth consecutive game — the four games Bergeron has played since his return after a one-month absence . . . The Sabres committed eight giveaways, eight more than the tidy Bruins.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.