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Talking, tensions heat up off ice

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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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ARLINGTON, Va.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is using his blocker as a weapon. Nicklas Backstrom, the Washington Capitals No. 1 center who missed half the season with a concussion, had his head targeted. Bruins forwards Milan Lucic is a “crybaby” and, by the way, Boston’s game-winning goal in Monday’s Game 3 was set up by an offside play.

Talk during the two-day break between Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Capitals and Bruins — highlighted by Backstrom having his one-game suspension upheld by the league Tuesday — has been arguably more entertaining than the first three games of the series, which Boston leads 2-1. That’s hardly been unique as off-the-ice machinations have drawn about as much attention and way more scrutiny than what’s taken place on the ice through the first week of the postseason around the league.

“Lucic was going after his head again,” said Caps coach Dale Hunter as he defended Backstrom at the team’s practice facility on Wednesday. “We just have to play through it. It’s up to the referees to do their job and protect the players on the ice. We have to go out and play.”

Backstrom was the eighth player suspended so far in these playoffs — one more than the entirety of last postseason. He was given a match penalty — which comes with an automatic one-game suspension unless the league rescinds the sanction — for a cross-check to Rich Peverley’s face as time ticked down in Game 3.

“It was stupid on my part,” Backstrom said in a truncated chat with reporters. “I have to deal with it now. I don’t like it.”

Raffi Torres became suspension No. 9 as the league suspended the Phoenix Coyotes forward indefinitely Wednesday pending a Friday hearing for Tuesday night's vicious hit on Chicago forward Marian Hossa. Really, that number should be in double digits had Brendan Shanahan, who is in his first season as the league’s discipline czar, suspended Nashville defenseman Shea Weber for slamming Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg into the boards in a move right out of pro wrestling last week.

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Whatever else Shanahan does this postseason, the fact that Weber only received a $2,500 fine for the incident won’t be erased.

“You can see Weber hits (Zetterberg) in the head and he keeps playing,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. “There’s nothing you can do. You never know what’s going to happen. We can talk all day about that.”

The Caps are hardly riding white horses into Thursday’s Game 4 at Verizon Center.

Forward Jason Chimera, the same player who said Thomas was battering the Caps with illegal jabs from the crease, speared Boston forward Brad Marchand in the groin, although that was one of the few illegal acts of violence the refs actually caught as a slashing penalty was called.

And for Hunter, who, let’s not forget, delivered one of the biggest cheap shots in NHL history after New York Islanders forward Pierre Turgeon scored a goal in the 1993 playoffs, to take the Bruins to task for headhunting is just a tad hypocritical.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I don’t know any coach who would tell his team to go after somebody’s head. It’s ludicrous. It’s ridiculous.”

It was hard to argue that the Bruins seemed to find Backstrom's head on a few occasions, including when Lucic knocked Backstrom’s helmet off at the end of the second period of Game 3. Both were called for minor penalties.

“He’s sticking up for his players and you can’t blame him for that,” Lucic said. “Scrums are part of the playoffs. All that is playoff stuff. Right now, we aren’t worried about what’s being said in the papers. We worry about what we need to do to get ready for Game 4.”

There’s always been gamesmanship in the playoffs, where players and coaches try to lobby for calls between games in the media. But when Chimerais is name-calling, questioning the reigning Stanley Cup champion’s manhood, we've moved beyond that point.

And this has been one of the cleaner first-round series in the playoffs.

Tagged: Bruins, Capitals, Predators, Tim Thomas, Shea Weber, Nicklas Backstrom, Milan Lucic

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