It’s no secret that Dale Hunter the player used to live on the edge and, oftentimes, well over it. But Dale Hunter the coach railed against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday for targeting Nicklas Backstrom’s head.
“It is crossing the line,” the Washington Capitals coach said. “To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play.”
Most on the Bruins’ side took exception to that accusation, notably coach Claude Julien.
“That doesn’t make sense. I don’t know any coach that would tell his team to go after somebody’s head,” Julien said. “It’s ludicrous. It’s ridiculous.”
Backstrom missed 40 games from January through March with a concussion.
“I don’t blame Dale for defending his player, if that’s what he’s trying to do. To me, it’s going to war for your team, and I’m not commenting more on that,” Julien continued. “I’m not going to comment on his comments on protecting his player, if that’s the case. But if he really believes the other way around, that’s the part that I don’t [understand]. Being accused of head-hunting is ludicrous.”
Several Boston players offered the same sort of sentiment. Brad Marchand said “That’s not what we do” and Patrice Bergeron said he and his teammates were playing “playoff hockey.”
“It’s been physical. I don’t think anybody’s targeting anything,” tough guy Shawn Thornton said. “We just focus on playing and all the other stuff I don’t read too much into it.”
Milan Lucic did knock Backstrom’s helmet off in a Game 3 scrum, and Tim Thomas gave him a blocker to the head in Game 2.
“Scrums are a big part of the playoffs and all that type of stuff and right now we’re not too worried about what’s being said in the papers or anything like that,” Lucic said. “We’re just worried about what we need to do to get ourselves for Game 4.”
Marchand blew off the suggestion of players targeting the heads of opponents with concussion histories, and Bergeron pointed out that the Bruins have two guys currently out with that injury: Marc Savard, whose career is likely over, and Nathan Horton, who hasn’t played since January and is out for the playoffs.
“We’ve been in the middle of it on the other side of it with Savard, Horton and me [having deal with concussions]. So it’s not fun. You never want that to happen,” Bergeron said. “We’re worried about playing playoff hockey, playing hard and within the rules while finding results. Games are played hard, especially this time of year. I haven’t seen anything that’s out of the ordinary with our series.”
For his part, Backstrom was not as vocal as his coach about the Bruins going after his head.
“A little bit, but that’s how the playoff is,” he said. “I like when it’s tough and stuff like that. There’s nothing bad about that.”
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner and forward Jay Beagle said they didn’t notice the Bruins specifically targeting Backstrom’s head.
“No, I don’t think there was targeting,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s hockey. It’s a physical game. Everybody involved.”