Dale Hunter: Bruins targeting Nicklas Backstrom's head

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Nicklas Backstrom got a match penalty for cross-checking Rich Peverley at the end of Game 3 Monday, but Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter defended his star center and blasted the Boston Bruins for targeting his head.

“Every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on, he gets blockered to the head by [Tim] Thomas the game before. He’s protecting his head,” Hunter said Tuesday. “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 his part.”

This was just Backstrom’s seventh game back after a long concussion absence. Backstrom was suspended one game for “attempting to injure” Peverley.

Video appeared to show Backstrom lifting his stick into Peverley’s face, though Hunter saw it differently.

“If you slow it down frame by frame, where was [Peverley’s] stick? It was up in his face first,” the Caps coach said. “Re-watch it again, where his stick’s up in his face, and Nicky because of the stick in his face, that the guy put his stick up like that and Nicky reacted to it.”

But Hunter’s beef goes beyond that one play. Asked if he thought the Bruins have been targeting Backstrom’s head this series, he did not mince words.

“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.”

Given Backstrom’s concussion history, Hunter took exception to the Bruins’ actions.

“Yeah, he’s got to protect 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 said. “He’s not like that. Because of the stick was there, he protected himself.”

Even for the playoffs, that might be crossing the line.

“Well, definitely. It’s a head. Anymore it’s a serious injury. It is crossing the line,” Hunter said. “To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play.”

Hunter was once suspended 21 games, the longest ban at the time in NHL history for striking Pierre Turgeon after a goal in the 1993 playoffs.

Backstrom was not made available for comment Tuesday.

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