The verbal jousting continued well into the night Monday after Zdeno Chara’s slap shot from the right point with 1 minute 53 seconds left in the third period gave the Boston Bruins a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals and a 2-1 lead in the teams’ best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Caps Coach Dale Hunter, who answers questions after losses as if a tow truck is about to put a hook onto his car, insisted the match penalty against Nicklas Backstrom, for cross-checking the Bruins’ Rich Peverly as time ran out should not result in the automatic one-game suspension that usually comes with it. “I think it’ll be rescinded,” Hunter said. “If you seen it, it wasn’t bad.”
Hours later, Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s czar of discipline, ruled differently. Backstrom will miss Thursday’s Game 4.
Exactly when a cross-check to the face, even from a player with Backstrom’s reputation for clean play, isn’t that bad is tough to say. Bias aside, Hunter may not be the best judge. As a player, he was famous for making plays that he apparently didn’t think were “that bad,” plays that earned him a reputation in every NHL city but Washington as one of the league’s dirtiest players.
Bruins Coach Claude Julien’s view of the cross-check was — surprise — different from Hunter’s. While he said he understood that physical play is “part of playoff hockey,” he expressed concern over the fact that three of his players have been cross-checked in the face in three games.
This has the feel of a long series, one that is likely to get chippier as it goes along. That said, if you line up Bruins-Caps next to the mayhem that has broken out in some of the other first-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is peewee hockey with no hitting allowed. Going into Monday night, 11 game misconducts had been handed out in five nights of play. That compares with six in the entire playoffs a year ago.
Most series are like this one, with every goal feeling as if it is almost as important as an overtime winner. There were two of those, one for each team, in the first two games in Boston. There, tight checking and good goaltending produced a total of four goals in two games. Seven periods-plus of hockey and the puck went into the net four times.
That changed Monday. Both teams found more open ice. The Bruins finally got some people in front of Braden Holtby’s net to make life a lot more difficult for him. Holtby looked human at times, although the winning goal was one of those hockey flukes: Chara’s shot was redirected by defenseman Roman Hamrlik’s stick past a stunned Holtby.