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Dale Hunter: Bruins targeting Nicklas Backstrom’s head

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While it’s unclear whether the NHL will uphold the automatic suspension that came with Nicklas Backstrom’s match penalty at the conclusion of Game 3, Coach Dale Hunter’s view of the situation is clear.

Tuesday morning Hunter reiterated that he believes Backstrom doesn’t deserve a suspension and defended his star player as he lashed out at the Bruins for targeting the recently-concussed centerman’s 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. “He just came off for 40 games. You have to protect your head.”

Backstrom is expected to face a disciplinary hearing with the NHL’s vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The two-day gap between Games 3 and 4 of the series gives the league more time to schedule the hearing.

Monday night’s contest marked Backstrom’s seventh game back in the lineup after he missed nearly three months and 40 games with a concussion. As time expired in regulation, Boston forward Rich Peverley and Alex Ovechkin exchanged some jabs in the corner of the defensive zone.

Peverley knocked Ovechkin’s feet out from under him, prompting Backstrom to come to his teammate’s aid. Video shows Backstrom pushing his stick into Peverley’s face, but Hunter said that the Capitals’ center was protecting himself.

“I think he was just trying to protect his face,” Hunter said. “If you watch it, [Peverley’s] stick’s right in his eyes, and it’s a dangerous play on their part.

“He’s got to protect himself,” Hunter continued. “You get a second concussion you’re out a long time. If it wasn’t there, if the 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. Because the stick was there he protected himself.”

Hunter was later asked directly if he thought the Bruins were intentionally targeting Backstrom’s head.

“Oh yeah,” the coach replied, adding that he thinks the intent to injure a player with a history of concussions is over the line.

“Definitely, it’s a head you know,” Hunter said. “It’s a serious injury and they are. It is crossing the line to grab his head all the time is not the right way to play.”

Backstrom was not made available to the media Tuesday.

Washington Post
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