Dale Hunter was confident Nicklas Backstrom would not be suspended for his cross-check to the face of Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley.
“If you slow it down frame by frame, where was [Peverley’s] stick? It was up in his face first,” the Washington Capitals’ coach said Tuesday. “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.”
The NHL did not feel the same way, handing him a one-game suspension.
League VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan acknowledged, as Hunter claimed, that Peverley’s stick came up, but he called Backstrom’s reaction “excessive and reckless.” The match penalty Backstrom received carried with it an automatic suspension, but this was a one-game ban levied rather than upheld.
“Peverly raises stick in a close proximity to Backstrom’s face. Backstrom reacts by thrusting his stick forward in a cross-checking motion, striking peverley in the visor,” Shanahan said in the video announcing the suspension. “Even though Backstrom might’ve felt threatened by Peverley’s stick, the fact is, Peverley is in a defensive stance and it is Backstrom who is approaching him.”
Backstrom was not made available to comment Tuesday.
“Nicky’s had a concussion this season and there’s been a couple times where they’ve gone after his head and grabbed him and thrown him to the ice,” right wing Troy Brouwer said on a conference call with reporters. “So I can understand why Nicky is a little bit nervous about when sticks come up in his head.”
Boston players and coach Claude Julien saw it a bit differently.
“I think that that’s maybe a little bit of frustration,” center Chris Kelly said. “Peverley’s just making a play and he had four guys kind of 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. They can worry about themselves.”
The Bruins said they would not change much with or without Backstrom for Game 4.
“It’s not the first time this series somebody’s taken a cross-check in the face. There’s nothing we really can do,” defenseman Greg Zanon said. “We just prepare for Game 4; whether he’s in the lineup or out of the lineup, we’re going to [take] care of ourselves to do what we can to hopefully come out with a win.”
Shanahan ruled one game in part because Backstrom had no history of suspensions or fines and because Peverley was not injured on the play.
Julien was pleased Peverley did not try a sell job, either.
“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,” the Bruins’ coach 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.”