ARLINGTON, Va. - On Tuesday, Capitals coach Dale Hunter said he believed the Bruins have been targeting Nicklas Backstrom’s head. On Wednesday, Hunter’s counterpart fired back.
“It doesn’t make sense,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said after practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I don’t know any coach that would tell his team to go after somebody’s head. It speaks for itself.’’
Backstrom will not play in Game 4 Thursday night, having been suspended for one game because of a match penalty for hitting Rich Peverley in the face with his stick at the conclusion of Game 3.
“The league dealt with it,’’ Peverley said. “That was what they felt sufficed. I can’t do anything about it. That’s the league’s decision.’’
Backstrom missed 40 regular-season games because of a concussion he sustained when Calgary’s Rene Bourque elbowed him in the head.
“If you notice that, every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on,’’ Hunter said Tuesday. “He gets a blocker to the head by [Tim] Thomas in the game before, so he’s protecting his head.
“He just came off of 40 games. You have to protect your head. With [Peverley’s] stick being in his face like that, it’s a dangerous play on Boston’s part.’’
Since Julien got behind the Boston bench in 2007-08, the Bruins have had three of their stars suffer severe concussions: Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, and Nathan Horton. Savard’s career is over. Horton will not appear in these playoffs, and there is no guarantee that he will be ready for the start of 2012-13.
“There’s not a coach in this league - not one - that is going to tell his players to target somebody’s head,’’ Julien said. “Concussions are a serious and sensitive thing. I think we all respect that. Anybody who thinks otherwise is totally wrong.’’
Julien, who was once a teammate of Hunter’s with Quebec, was asked if Hunter might have been defending his player more than accusing the Bruins of targeting Backstrom’s head.
“I don’t blame Dale for defending his player, if that’s what he’s trying to do,’’ Julien said. “To me, it’s going to war for your team. 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 around, being accused of head-hunting is ludicrous.’’
Still a threat
In the first three games of the series, Backstrom centered Washington’s second line, usually paired with Alexander Semin. In Wednesday’s practice, Mathieu Perreault assumed Backstrom’s shifts alongside Semin.
Backstrom was sidelined for all four regular-season meetings with Boston, with the Bruins going 1-2-1 against Washington.
“They are still a very, very good team with or without him in the lineup,’’ Julien said. “There’s no ifs or buts that we’re going to feel confident tomorrow because he’s not in. They won some games without him. They’ve beaten us without him in the lineup.
“That’s not going to be an issue. The issue is going to be about us trying to get better as the series moves on.’’
Backstrom, who scored the overtime winner in Game 2, was playing with more pace and confidence in Game 3. He only returned from his concussion March 31.
In the first three games, Bruins defensemen Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had taken most of their shifts against Backstrom’s line. Ference and Boychuk most likely will continue to match up against Washington’s second line of Perreault between Semin and Jason Chimera.
This is familiar
The Bruins are 0 for 11 on the power play in this series, which means they are on pace to match their 0-for-21 mark during last year’s first round against Montreal.
The Bruins made changes to both units during Wednesday’s practice. Zdeno Chara and Peverley manned the points on the first unit. David Krejci and Bergeron rotated between the left half-boards and the goal line. Milan Lucic was in front of the net.
On the No. 2 unit, Joe Corvo and Dennis Seidenberg were on the blue line. Tyler Seguin was on the left half-boards. Brian Rolston was in the high slot, while Benoit Pouliot was roaming down low.
Brad Marchand, a power-play regular, did not practice on either unit.
An Erskine sighting
During Wednesday’s practice, John Erskine practiced alongside Dennis Wideman on Washington’s third defensive pairing. Jeff Schultz has been Wideman’s partner for the first three games. Erskine hasn’t played since Feb. 12 because of a lower-body injury. Erskine, a physical player when healthy, would give Washington more blue line brawn. Wideman and Schultz have taken most of their shifts against Boston’s third and fourth lines . . . Erskine has tangled with Lucic before. It’s possible Erskine could invite Lucic to fight early on, following Lucic’s third-period tussle with Wideman, Matt Hendricks, and Karl Alzner. Lucic would be wise to decline, given Erskine’s limited role . . . Julien said there has been no change in the condition of Adam McQuaid (eye/head). The defenseman will miss his fourth straight game Thursday.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.