B's on (head)Hunter claim, concussions

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
6:47
PM ET



ARLINGTON, Va. -- Bruins coach Claude Julien did not appreciate Capitals coach Dale Hunter's contention that the Bruins are headhunters.

Julien called Hunter's comments "ridiculous" and "ludicrous."

On Tuesday, Hunter said the Bruins were targeting the head of Nicklas Backstrom, who missed 40 games this season due to a concussion.

"There's no reaction, really," Julien said. "That doesn't make sense. We don't. I don't know any coach that would tell his team to go after somebody's head. That speaks for itself and that's all I'm going to say about that."

[+] EnlargeBruins, Capitols
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesCaps center Nicklas Backstrom is suspended for Game 4 for inciting this post-Game 3 scrum by cross-checking Rich Peverley.
But Julien continued.

"It's ludicrous. It's ridiculous. There's always going to be emotions in games and there are things that are happening. There were three cross checks and they penalized one and suspended one, but we're not whining about the referees and what's going on here. We need to win a game and we need to win a series. That's where our focus is on and that's where it should be."

Backstrom was suspended for one game and will miss Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Bruins on Thursday night at Verizon Center. After Boston's 4-3 win in Game 3, Backstrom cross-checked the Bruins' Rich Peverley in the face.

"We're definitely going to miss him," Hunter said. "We don't think he should be suspended.

"It's disappointing. He's suspended and it's in the history books and we have to concentrate on [Game 4]."

After the Capitals held practice Wednesday morning, Hunter said the Bruins are not only playing between the whistles.

"They were after the whistle and before the puck was dropped. They were doing stuff off the draw, like [Milan] Lucic going after Nicky's head," Hunter said. "We've got to play through it and let the refs do their job. We just have to play."

Julien believes his team is doing exactly that.

"The one thing you have to do is play between whistles," Julien said. "There are scrums that happen after whistles and you've got to be disciplined enough not to put your team short-handed. We're just one of many series that have all the same things happening. This is not unique. This is playoff hockey."

When it comes to concussions, the Bruins have recently dealt with their fair share of head injuries. Currently, forward Nathan Horton will not play again this season after suffering a concussion on Jan. 22. Marc Savard's career is likely over because of numerous concussions, and Patrice Bergeron nearly had his career ended in 2007.

"It's the first I'm hearing of it," Bergeron said of Hunter's comments. "We're just playing playoff hockey. We're not worrying about who's out there. I certainly would be the last guy to do something like that, having been through it. I don't really worry about that, to be honest, we just need to go out there and play our game."

Bergeron does not believe players head-hunt in the NHL.

"No. Obviously, games are played hard, especially at this time of the year," he said. "I hope not."

After the Bruins held practice at Capitals Iceplex Wednesday afternoon, Julien spoke at length about concussions, and mentioned a tweet by Octagon hockey agent Allan Walsh, who wrote: "This has spiraled from out of control to total chaos. Do we really need a player to die on the ice for this insanity to stop?"

Walsh posted his tweet Tuesday night, likely after the Coyotes' Raffi Torres hit the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa during Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series. Torres has been suspended indefinitely until a hearing on Friday.

So far this postseason, there have been nine suspensions. There were seven total during the entire Stanley Cup playoffs last season.

"I read something about an agent, Allan Walsh, that made a comment about that stuff, but they're the ones that are representing these players," Julien said. "These players are all part of the P.A. [players association] and the fact is, and I'll say it again, there's not a coach in this league -- not one -- that will tell his players to target somebody's head.

"Concussions are a series and sensitive thing. We all respect that, so anyone who thinks otherwise is totally wrong.

"Now, when it happens in a game, whether it's one of our players or someone on the other team, it's not premeditated, not something that's asked by organizations or coaches. It's something that happens in the midst of a play, in the heat of the play, so somewhere along the line everybody's got to try educate the players to be a little more careful.

"That's what we keep trying to do, but there's not a game in this world that is faster than ours right now and it's easy to criticize but it's sometimes tough to make those split-second decisions. Sometimes it'll happen and the guy knows, regrets it and apologizes and he's sincere, but the damage is done. Somehow we're all trying to minimize that and instead of criticizing and attacking, we should all be working together in order to make it better. If coaches, players, general managers, organizations and the league, if we all work together, including the P.A., that's the best way to resolve it."

Julien was then asked if he thought Hunter's comments were simply a way for the coach to protect his players.

"If it is, it's a normal thing," Julien said. "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 and that's why I'm not commenting more on that. I'm not going to comment on his comments of protecting his player, if that's the case, but if he really believes the other way, that's the part where being accused of head hunting is ludicrous."

After the Bruins' practice, Lucic, who's had a few good battles with Backstrom, was asked if he plays any differently, knowing an opposing player suffered a head injury.

"You still have to play hard against them," Lucic said. "Just because a guy is injured doesn't mean you go out of your way to re-injure him, but you don't go out of your way to be light on him. You still have to play against him like you would any other player."

As far as Hunter's comments about the Bruins targeting players' heads, Lucic said, "He's obviously sticking up for his players. For us, we're just protecting ourselves and protecting each other in scrums and that's the way we are."

Lucic was suspended for one game during the 2009 playoffs when he cross-checked Max Lapierre to the face during the Montreal series.

"I remember three years ago, I got in trouble for the exact same thing on Lapierre," recalled Lucic. "You try to do whatever you can to keep your stick down. I bet if you asked [Backstrom] to go back, he definitely wouldn't have done the same thing.

"When there are scrums after the whistle, you've got to do whatever you can to make sure you don't put yourself, and the team, in jeopardy. You've got to be smart, even if it's not a suspension, you don't want to put your team down by doing something stupid in a scrum. The emotions and the heat have risen in this series and we knew it was going to get to this point. That's what the playoffs are all about. You create that passion and that hate for another team. The fans get into it."

Even Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton is not concerned with Hunter's comments.

"He's the type of guy who stuck up for his teammates when he played and I'm sure that's the same type of thing right now," Thornton said. "I more worried about what's going on over here than over there."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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