- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ARLINGTON, VA. (AP) - Leave the euphemisms about playing with an “edge” or “emotion” to Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien and his players.

There are other ways to describe the shift in tenor of the reigning Stanley Cup champions’ first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals: more hits, more scrums, more penalties, more sticks in opponents’ faces.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter went so far as to say Tuesday that the Bruins have been going after the head of center Nicklas Backstrom, who returned to Washington’s lineup March 31 after missing half the regular season because of a concussion.

“It is crossing the line,” Hunter said. “To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play.”

Asked Tuesday, an off day in the series, whether he thinks the Bruins are targeting Backstrom’s head, Hunter replied: “Oh, yeah.”

“If you noticed it, every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on. He gets blockered to the head by (goalie Tim) Thomas the game before,” Hunter said. “So he’s protecting his head.”

Hunter expects the NHL to overturn the match penalty Backstrom got for putting his stick in the face of Rich Peverley at the end of Boston’s 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Monday. Hunter said Backstrom “was trying to protect his face,” because Peverley had his stick raised.

“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’s not like that,” Hunter said.

Capitals forward Troy Brouwer echoed that assessment.

“There’s been a couple times where they’ve gone after his head and grabbed him and thrown him to the ice,” Brouwer said. “So I can understand why Nicky is a little bit nervous about when sticks come up.”

Boston leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 heading into Thursday’s Game 4 at Washington, which Backstrom will miss unless the league rescinds his automatic suspension. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.

“I’m proud of `Pev’ for standing up on his feet, taking the cross-check to the face, and not embellishing,” Julien said during Boston’s media availability, which was before Hunter’s remarks. “And that’s what I want my team to keep doing.”

Boston defenseman Greg Zanon said about Backstrom’s penalty: “It was high. He definitely hit him in the face. It’s not the first time this series somebody’s taken a cross-check in the face. There’s nothing we really can do. It’s up to the league.”

Boston and Washington combined for 12 penalties worth a total of 26 minutes in Games 1 and 2.

And in Game 3? That game alone featured 16 penalties worth 35 minutes, and one gesture not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

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