Jay McClement’s hit on Nicklas Backstrom was a game-changer, though not in the way the Toronto Maple Leafs would have liked. No penalty was called on the play, to the dismay of the Washington Capitals, but Alex Ovechkin defending his teammate sparked a 5-1 victory.
At the 15:24 mark of the first period, McClement shoved Backstrom into the boards right in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench.
“I saw the board,” Backstrom said. “That’s what I saw.”
Referees Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal did not assess a penalty. Caps coach Adam Oates acknowledged he had a tough angle to see the play but thought “it was a clear boarding.”
“I knew he was right behind me, but I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think so, if I’m going to be honest with you,” Backstrom said. “I don’t know, maybe two minutes or something, at least.”
Defenseman Jack Hillen said he was “shocked” there was no penalty on McClement, while also pointing out that officials have a difficult job and can’t get every call right.
“It’s one of those dangerous plays,” Hillen said. “It happened to me earlier in the season, but you get hit like three or four feet away from the boards. It’s just a dangerous play.”
It’s possible Backstrom could have braced himself. But he was not injured on the play.
“Obviously the guy’s in a vulnerable position; you have to do what you can to avoid the hit at all costs,” defenseman Steve Oleksy said. “And you’ve got to know who it is, too. Obviously it’s one of our best players, and you’ve got to try to avoid that at all costs.”
Ovechkin got two minutes for charging when he went after McClement. The Caps killed off the penalty as the Verizon Center crowd got into it.
“Yeah, you can hear the crowd, you know?” Ovechkin said. “The guys said they were going to kill it all day long, that kind of penalties.”
It could have just as easily been a four-on-four situation, too, but McClement didn’t go to the penalty box.
“It’s a type of hit where [McClement] knows that [Backstrom] in that kind of danger zone towards the boards,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He gave him a little bit of a bump. It’s one of those questionable hits that maybe they’ll review, maybe they won’t. It’s part of the game, I guess.”
Fighting to settle the situation is also part of the game, and left wing Jason Chimera challenged McClement to a fight late in the first period.
“We’re a great group of guys and we stand up for each other,” Backstrom said. “Ovi’s on my line, and then after that Chimmer, when he asked him. I think it’s great that we’re standing up for each other.”
All in response to a hit that, at the end of the day, was just a hit.
“it’s not a play we want in the game, obviously, but it’s part on the player hitting and part on the player getting hit,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “I think Nick, he’s one of the best in the game at not putting himself in a situation where he can get toe-picked a little bit, but still that’s a play you don’t want to get finished.”