A "reckless elbow" has landed Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque in hot water.

NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan suspended Bourque five games Wednesday for his elbow to the head of Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom.

The incident occurred midway through the third period of Calgary's 3-1 loss on Tuesday night.

Backstrom was cruising through the neutral zone and had just delivered a pass when Bourque blindsided him with an elbow to the jaw.

"This is a hit to the head and a clear violation of Rule 48: Illegal Check to the Head," Shanahan said in a video posted on NHL.com.

Bourque was assessed a minor penalty on the play. Backstrom played two more shifts before leaving the game.

"We believe Bourque's assertion that this was an instinctive reflex rather than a premeditated attempt to injure," Shanahan said. "However, as all of the parties in the hearing agree, this reckless elbow to the head is indefensible."

Shanahan added the fact that Bourque was suspended for two games just 16 days earlier for a hit from behind on Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook played a part in the length of the ban.

Backstrom's inability to continue also played a role, he added.

Bourque, who will be eligible to return Jan. 17 at San Jose, is classified as a repeat offender under the league's CBA and will forfeit US$203,252.05 in salary.

The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.