Let's acknowledge this off the top: Washington Capitals Coach Dale Hunter being outraged about egregious violence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs elevates hockey discourse to hereto unforeseen levels of hypocrisy and irony. It's like Michael Bay complaining that another summer blockbuster has too many explosions.
But he's not longer Pierre Turgeon's chiropractor; he's the Washington Capitals' head coach, which means it's part of his duties to rage against a Boston Bruins' machine that physically manhandled the Caps in Game 3 — and recently concussed center Nicklas Backstrom in particular.
So on Tuesday, Hunter let the world know he felt Backstrom was being headhunted, and that any headhunting Backstrom may have have engaged in wasn't his fault.
"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 Tuesday. "He just came out for 40 games. You have to protect your head. With his stick being in his face like that, it was a dangerous play on his part."
Backstrom is facing a 1-game suspension for a match penalty against Rich Peverely at the end of the Bruins' Game 3 victory:
Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that Backstrom is due to have a hearing with the NHL about the play.
Said Hunter regarding that play:
"I don't think he's going to be suspended. If you slow it down frame by frame, where was [Peverley's] stick? It was up in his face first," the Caps coach said. "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."
Well, that's one explanation.
The reasons behind Hunter's defiant words today are twofold:
1. He's trying to establish that Backstrom felt threatened by Peverely because he was being targeted all game, giving him cover for the late-game cross check.
2. He's working the refs for Game 4, knowing that the Bruins went after Backstrom, John Carlson and Karl Alzner physically and effectively in Game 3. Matching the Bruins' aggression is foolhardy; trying to turn it into a liability through penalties is the better plan.
Should Backstrom be suspended for the cross-check? We'd say no, but what say you?