ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington Capitals wait to find out the fate of Nicklas Backstrom's status for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Boston Bruins, coach Dale Hunter went on the offensive Tuesday to defend his star center's actions at the end of Game 3.
Backstrom was assessed a match penalty after cross-checking Boston's Rich Peverley in the waning seconds of the Bruins' 4-3 victory Monday night at Verizon Center. He is suspended for Game 4 pending a review of the incident by the League's Department of Player Safety on Tuesday.
"No, because I don't think he's going to be suspended," Hunter said when asked if he has to prepare for not having Backstrom in the lineup. "If you slow it down, frame-by-frame, where was [Peverley]'s stick? It was up in his face first. If you watch, just go back and re-watch it again -- [Peverley's] stick is up in his face and Nicky, because of the stick in his face and the guy put his stick up like that, Nicky reacted to it.
"I think he was trying to protect his face. If you watch it, the stick is right in his eyes. It is a dangerous play on their part. Especially for him, if you notice every scrum Nicky comes out with no helmet on. He gets blockered to the head by [Tim] Thomas in the game before, so he's protecting his head. He just came off of [missing] 40 games. You have to protect your head. With [Peverley's] stick being in his face like that, it is a dangerous play on his part."
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Hunter was asked if he thinks the Bruins are targeting Backstrom's head. Backstrom missed three months of the regular season with a concussion after then-Calgary forward Rene Bourque elbowed him in the head.
Normally reserved with the media, Hunter did not hold back.
"Oh yeah -- he comes out with no helmet, the blocker to the head and they jumped on him and twisted his head down," Hunter said. "Last night, what did [Milan] Lucic do to him in the scrum? He grabbed his head. So Nicky is protecting himself.
"He's got to protect himself. If you get a second concussion, you're out a long time. If it wasn't there, if the stick wasn't in his face, Nicky Backstrom isn't that type of player. He doesn't just cross-check somebody in the face. He's not like that. Because the stick was there, he protected himself."
Backstrom has never had more than 50 penalty minutes in a season. He earned a 10-minute misconduct penalty Feb. 7, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but otherwise has never taken more than two penalties or had more than four PIMs in a game in his career.
He ended up with 16 minutes in penalties from four infractions Monday night, including three that were a result of cross-checking. Backstrom and Lucic were penalized for a post-whistle scrum at the end of the first period, and he also cross-checked Brad Marchand with 3:14 left in the third period.
"Well, yeah -- that is maybe a little bit of frustration," Boston's Chris Kelly said when asked if some of Washington's top players were off their game because of the physical play. "That's just Peverley making a play and he had four guys on him. I think we're going to focus on ourselves and playing the style of hockey that's made us successful in the past and they can worry about themselves.
Added Boston coach Claude Julien: "My job is to prepare my team. … The League needs to look at it and judge it from there. 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. 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. We're going to keep moving forward and we're going to stay focused on our series and nothing from the decision is going to detract us from that."