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Capitals Notebook: No targeting going on, Bruins’ Julien say

BY ZAC BOYER

ARLINGTON—Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien vehemently denied suggestions by Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter and Capitals players that the Bruins have been specifically targeting center Nicklas Backstrom’s head after he sustained a concussion earlier this season.

“It’s ludicrous. It’s ridiculous. OK?” Julien said Wednesday afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where the two teams are preparing for Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series tonight at Verizon Center. “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 but if he really believes the other way around, that’s the part that I don’t [understand]. Being accused of headhunting is ludicrous.”

Backstrom sustained a concussion Jan. 3 and missed the next 40 games, returning for the last four of the regular season. He is suspended for the game tonight after delivering a cross-check to the face of Boston winger Rich Peverley following the Capitals’ 4–3 loss Monday in Game 3.

Hunter on Tuesday defended Backstrom’s actions, saying that his player was merely trying to defend himself after taking several shots to the head during the game.

“No way do I condone cross-checking someone in the face. He shouldn’t have done that, and I think he knows that himself,” Capitals forward Jason Chimera said. “But you continually get cross-checked, get punched in the head, get blockered in the head, and you’ve got to protect yourself. That’s what he’s been doing. I mean, someone’s going after your head, you’ve going to try to protect yourself, aren’t you? You just don’t want to stand there with your head and have someone keep on whacking at it.”

Chimera referred to Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who appeared to use his blocker to hit Backstrom in the head midway through the Capitals’ double-overtime Game 2 victory.

Bruins players, though, denied any effort to specifically target Backstrom, with forward Patrice Bergeron referencing his own experience with concussions as a reason he wouldn’t do it.

“We’ve been in the middle of it on the other side of it with [Marc] Savard, [Nathan] Horton and me, so it’s not fun,” Bergeron said. “You never want that to happen. 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.”

Julien made it clear the coaches have not ordered their players to be additionally rough with Backstrom, and objected to the idea that the players might be doing it of their own volition.

“There’s scrums that happen after whistles, and you got to be disciplined enough not to put your team short-handed,” Julien said. “As I mentioned the other night, we’re just [in] one of many series that have all the same things happening. So this is not unique. This is playoff hockey.”

PEVERLEY SKIRTS DEBATE

Peverley chose not to comment Wednesday when asked about Backstrom’s suspension, saying only that the NHL dealt with the cross-check in a way it deemed fit.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Peverley said. “The league dealt with it and that was what they felt sufficed. I can’t do anything about it. That’s the league’s decision.”

While Backstrom apologized for the move—“It was stupid on my part,” he said—Peverley said the Capitals center did not specifically speak to him about his actions.

Asked if he considered himself fortunate that he didn’t respond to Backstrom’s cross-check, especially given the suspension, he said he didn’t even have an opportunity to do so.

“It just happened so quickly that by the time everything happened, it happened quickly,” Peverley said. “The refs jumped in and everybody jumped in, so it’s not like any reactions were going to happen.”

NO ‘BABY’ ACT FALLOUT

Defenseman Karl Alzner downplayed the taunting he did of Milan Lucic in Game 3, when he was caught mimicking wiping his eyes after Lucic argued a call.

“My actions weren’t calling him a baby,” said Alzner, who grew up with Lucic in Vancouver. “We all know he’s one of the toughest guys in the league. It was more just a lot of guys complaining about calls out there, and there’s nothing we can do about the calls once they’re made.”

Lucic laughed off Alzner’s taunt after the game. “That’s a lot coming from a guy who I think has two roughing penalties in three years,” he said.

INJURY UPDATE

Mike Knuble, who has been a healthy scratch for the first three games of the series, was on the fourth line Wednesday morning and is likely to be back in the lineup with Backstrom out. “You just want to try to even the series, do what you can in whatever role it is,” Knuble said. “If you play two minutes or if you play 20 minutes, you just do your best and try to be a positive influence on the team.”

Defenseman John Erskine, who has not played since Feb. 12 and sat out 32 of the last 33 games, skated with Dennis Wideman. Jeff Schultz, with Wideman for the first three games, was paired with Dmitry Orlov, who has also been a healthy scratch this series.

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has battled a groin injury since mid-March, revealed he had a “pretty severe tear” and isn’t close to returning. “Specifically for me, I came here for that actual [playoff] experience, and not to be able to play, it’s really hard,” he said. “But that’s life. It’s out of my control. It’s still a game. It’s not the end of the world.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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