Backstrom suspended as Hunter stirs things up

Washington's Nicklas Backstrom checks Boston's Greg Zanon against the boards during the first...

Washington's Nicklas Backstrom checks Boston's Greg Zanon against the boards during the first period of Game 3. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:54 PM ET

BALLSTON, VIRG. - During his playing days, Dale Hunter was known as one of the biggest (bleep) disturbers in the NHL.

Now, in his position as coach of the Washington Capitals, he's at it again.

Consider the (bleep) disturbed.

Indeed, Hunter created a firestorm of controversy Tuesday when he accused the Boston Bruins of targeting the head of star forward Nicklas Backstrom, who earlier this season missed 40 games with a concussion.

Maybe the league was listening.

Backstrom cross-checked Bruins forward Rich Peverley in the face at the end of Boston's 4-3 victory Monday and was handed a one-game suspension by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan Tuesday night. It's the minimum automatic punishment for a player who receives a match penalty like Backstrom did.

That means Backstrom, who will miss Game 4 Thursday, will return to the lineup when the series shifts to Boston for Game 5 Saturday.

All the while, Hunter's suggestion that the Bruins had crossed the line with their alleged tactics against Backstrom ignited a backlash of respondents on Twitter and the Internet calling Hunter a hypocrite.

Most of the heated public reaction featured claims that Hunter was an expert at identifying cheapshots, since he allegedly was the expert at them during his illustrious playing days, most of which came in a Capitals uniform.

In fact, there were so many mentions of Pierre Turgeon on Twitter, you figured it would start trending in no time.

It was Hunter, if you'll recall, who was slapped with a 21-game suspension almost two decades ago for cheap-shotting Turgeon when the unsuspecting Islanders forward was celebrating a goal during Game 6 of the 1993 semifinal between New York and Washington.

Obviously, the incident hasn't been forgotten.

At the same time, give Hunter credit for standing up for his player. Deep down, he knows the Caps, who trail this best-of-seven series 2-1, will be in deep manure if Backstrom is forced by the league to sit out for any extended period of time.

According to Hunter, Backstrom only was trying to defend himself on the play. We'll leave you to make your own judgment.

"I think (Backstrom) was just trying to protect his face," Hunter said. "If you watch it, (Peverley's) stick is right in his eyes, and it's a dangerous play on their part. And especially for (Backstrom) because, if you noticed it, every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on.

"He just came out for 40 games. You have to protect your head. With his stick being in his face like that, it was a dangerous play on (Peverley's) part."

Hunter feels the Bruins are going after Backstrom's noggin, pointing out that even goalie Tim Thomas smacked the Caps forward in the melon in Game 2.

"Oh yeah," he said. "He comes out with no helmet, (takes) a blocker to the head, and then they jumped on him and twisted his head down. (Monday) night, what did (Milan) Lucic do him behind the scrum? He grabbed his head. So, Nicky's protecting himself.

"If you get a second concussion, you're out a long time. 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."

Hunter said he thought the Bruins had gone too far in their treatment of Backstrom.

"Well, definitely," he said. "It's a head. Any more, and it's a serious injury. It is crossing the line. To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play."

To no surprise, Caps forward Troy Brower backed his coach.

"Nicky has had a concussion this season and there's been a couple times (his head was targeted), so I can understand why Nicky's a little bit nervous about sticks coming up to his head," Brouwer said.

As for the Bruins, coach Claude Julien gave two thumbs up to Peverley for not being theatrical when Backstrom cross-checked him.

"We're not a team that will go down and start rolling on the ice for no reason," Julien said. "So I'm proud of Pev 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."

Prior to Tuesday, this series lacked the spice and bite of many of the others. Then Dale Hunter spoke. And that all changed.

Indeed, the head games have officially started.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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