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Fans protest in Montreal on Pacioretty's behalf

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has a message for fans who don't want to see players injured by hits to the head in hockey.

"If you don't like it, don't come to the games," he said. "I think players realize they could get hurt.

"They don't want to do it, but unless you've played and seen what goes on with the speed of the game, you're not going to be able to argue with it."

Hockey fans gathered outside Montreal's Bell Centre before Tuesday night's game against Washington to protest the NHL's decision not to suspend Boston's Zdeno Chara for his hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty last week.

Pacioretty was knocked unconscious and taken to a hospital with a serious concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck.

Fans chanted, waved placards denouncing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and signed petitions against hockey violence at a rally in the wake of a hit that sidelined one of their players.

Even scalpers got into the act at the rally held just before a showdown between the Canadiens and the Washington Capitals, alternating cries for tickets with a chant of "Bettman sucks!"

Organizers said about 1,000 people signed a petition against hockey violence that will be sent to Bettman.

Chara has said he didn't intend to injure Pacioretty.

Montreal police are investigating the incident and the NHL's decision has drawn widespread criticism ranging from fans to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Bettman, who was attending a meeting of league general managers in Florida, says he stands by his decision.

Boudreau questioned the motives of the protesters, saying they would likely not be so upset if it had been a Montreal player who hit a Bruins one.

"I don't want to get into a controversy, but what if that was Hal Gill that hit David Krejci?" he asked. "I don't think there would be a protest going on here today."

Despite his injuries, Pacioretty turned up at the Bell Centre to visit with his teammates and speak to the team doctor. He went back home before the game started.

"Going to the game tonight to show the boys some support.. going to be good to see everyone again," he tweeted.

Pacioretty's injury happened when his head hit a stanchion holding up the glass that separates the players benches. The Capitals were alarmed at their skate Tuesday morning that no extra padding had been added to the stanchion.

A Canadiens spokesman said the rink has standard NHL padding and it won't be changed until the league approves a new type of padding. The NHL is expected to adopt thicker, safer padding before next season.

The Bell Centre is one of six NHL arenas that has tempered glass around the boards instead of more flexible acrylic panes. They are all expected to change over next season under a league plan announced this week to make arenas safer for players.

Caps veteran Mike Knuble called the Bell Centre "a hard building to play in."

"The glass is way too hard," he said. "It's so heavy and it doesn't give.

"Your head is going off it and it doesn't give. I feel bad for the players who have to play here a lot."