It’s not a Stanley Cup playoff series until head coaches start openly lobbying for calls. The Bruins and coach Claude Julien spent their morning press conference at a local hotel basically accusing the Capitals of dirty stick work, possibly diving – though he may also have been referring to last year’s contentious Stanley Cup finals series with Vancouver - and other nefarious activities.
Meanwhile, Washington coach Dale Hunter says Boston is deliberately targeting star center Nicklas Backstrom with repeated blows to the head. Backstrom suffered a concussion on Jan. 3 following an elbow to the head and missed 40 games with post-concussion symptoms. Since returning March 31 against Montreal, Backstrom has shown an inclination towards physical confrontation that we haven’t always seen from the usually mild-mannered Swede.
Making this more complicated, Backstrom himself is essentially suspended for Game 4 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday unless the NHL decides to rescind the match penalty issued to him at the end of Game 3 on Monday. According to Canadian cable network TSN, Backstrom has a phone hearing scheduled with NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan. That’s not a good sign – even in a playoff season where Nashville defenseman Shea Weber crunched Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg head-first into the end boards as the horn sounded in the first game of that series and escaped with just a fine.
Backstrom, too, cross-checked Boston forward Rich Peverley as the final horn sounded in Game 3. A match penalty – when the referee decides there was a clear intent to injure – comes with an automatic one-game suspension.
“The league needs to look at it and judge it. We’re not a team that will go down, and I’ve said that many times, and start rolling on the ice for no reason,” Julien said. “So, I’m proud of [Peverley] for standing up on his feet, taking the cross-check to the face, and not embellishing. And that’s what I want my team to keep doing. The rest – we all have jobs to do and you let the people that are responsible of that to make those kinds of decisions.”
Needless to say, Hunter takes issue with the idea Backstrom should be suspended.
“Oh yeah. He comes out with no helmet, a blocker to the head, and then they jumped on him and twisted his head down,” Hunter said. “Last night, what did Lucic do him behind the scrum? He grabbed his head. So Nicky's protecting himself.”
Backstrom also got into a brief scrap with New York’s Ryan Callahan in the final game of the regular season. According to Hunter, this is all part of Backstrom protecting himself from another blow to the head.
“If you get a second concussion, you're out a long time,” Hunter said. “If it wasn't there, if a stick wasn't in his face, Nicky Backstrom's not that kind of player. He doesn't just cross-check somebody in the face. He's not like that. Because of the stick was there, he protected himself.”
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