With 4 minutes and 36 seconds remaining in the first period, Toronto Maple Leafs forward shoved Nicklas Backstrom into the boards at Verizon Center in front of the visitors’ bench.
“I saw the board. That’s what I saw,” said Backstrom, who was unharmed and finished the game.
“I knew he was right behind me, but I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think so, if I’m going to be honest with you,” Backstrom said. “I don’t know, maybe two minutes or something – at least.”
While Alex Ovechkin’s defense of Backstrom sparked a 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs, McClement wasn’t penalized for the hit by referees Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal and several Capitals didn’t agree with the non-call.
“I’m shocked that they didn’t call a penalty on it,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “It’s one of those dangerous plays. It happened to me earlier in the season, but you get hit like three or four feet away from the boards. It’s just a dangerous play. He’s lucky that he’s no worse for the wear.”
Coach Adam Oates said he didn’t have a good vantage point of the hit from his place behind the Capitals’ bench but said he “thought it was a clear boarding”.
While Backstrom could have potentially braced himself, he had his backed turned to an opponent and was in a bad spot just a few feet away from the boards. Defenseman Steve Oleksy said in that scenario, the onus is on the oncoming player to ease up.
“Obviously the guy’s in a vulnerable position; you have to do what you can to avoid the hit at all costs, especially in a game like that where it’s not exactly a 3-2 hockey game,” Oleksy said. “And you’ve got to know who it is, too. Obviously it’s one of our best players, and you’ve got to try to avoid that at all costs.”
Said Braden Holtby: “It’s not a play we want in the game, obviously, but it’s part on the player hitting and part on the player getting hit. I think Nick was – he’s one of the best in the game at not putting himself in a situation where he can get toe-picked a little bit, but it’s still – that’s a play you don’t want to get finished, and I’m surprised they didn’t get a penalty for that.”
That Backstrom avoided any significant harm on the play was good news for the Capitals and they know that McClement may not be disciplined for the hit. But it’s definitely an example of the grey area that exists with potentially dangerous hits in the game today.
“It’s a type of hit where he knows that he’s in that kind of danger zone towards the boards,” Troy Brouwer said. “He gave him a little bit of a bump. It’s one of those questionable hits that maybe they’ll review, maybe they won’t. It’s part of the game, I guess.”