Photo: NHL Bruins
Once upon a time, in a season far far away, when the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks hit the ice, it was just another game. But one heated Stanley Cup Final in 2011 changed all of that and now when the two teams face-off it’s a rivalry like no other. The Bruins came out the victor in 2011 hoisting the Cup that June, the Canucks rallied back with a 6-2 victory last month, but the contempt held for one another never seems to die down. Finger biting, finger flipping, and ring finger kissing aside — the battle brings everything a fan loves about hockey right to center ice.
Both teams featured Olympic caliber starting goaltenders with Team Finland’s Rask between the pipes for Boston and Team Canada’s Lulongo opposing for Vancouver. Rask stopped 27 of 28 shots faced, while Lulongo made 29 saves on 32 shots.
The game itself featured a certain amount of physicality that’s often found during a playoff run. It was the elevated physical type of play made as a team, but more specifically Johnny Boychuk that helped illuminate the Bruins early in the game.
“Definitely. He’s a big strong guy,” said Lucic on feeding off of Boychuk’s physicality. “A little bit of a scare there on that race kind of when the icing was waved off. But he’s a big strong boy and he always comes to play and he knows how to use his body well. So you saw it here today. On the back end he started to take over the game physically and we need that from him heading into the next game. He’s our most veteran defenseman.”
With a veteran title, perhaps comes a greater expectation as the final two games prior to Olympic break are almost upon the black and gold. Captain Zdeno Chara as previously reported will miss the final two games as he heads to Sochi, Russia to carry the flag for his native Slovakia. While his presence on the blue line will certainly be missed, the responsibility to step up will fall on the team as a whole, some players will also more than likely see an increase in on-ice minutes.
“I think everyone will be,” said Boychuk when asked about extra ice time in Chara’s absence. “They are going to expect a lot out of me. As a defense core we have to step up and not try to replace what we he [Chara] brings to the table but just step your game up individually and just try and keep it simple out there.”
Under fire, the decision for Chara to leave early, effectively missing two games and head to the Olympic games was not an easy one. Nor was it one made by the Bruins captain solely, it was a collective choice between Chara, team management and the team as a whole.
“Obviously I would never have made this decision without talking to the team – management, coaches and obviously players,” said Chara. “It would be pretty selfish if I were to make that decision on my own. This is…was made as a group and that was the only way I would accept it. So I really appreciate it again and it means a lot to me. Again thank you to all who made that decision.”
Always a team player, Chara has exemplified the meaning of captain during his reign in Boston. Leaving the team early, albeit only for two games was indeed a choice made by all.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Lucic when asked if it was a team decision. “I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it’s definitely a huge honor as an athlete to be a part of something like this and be the flag bearer for your country. So I’m happy for him, I’m thrilled for him that he gets to do this and have this opportunity, and I know we’ll all be watching to see how he does.”
With Chara heading overseas adding a special moment to his hockey career roster, the night in particular held a milestone at 5:12 of the first period, for another veteran player. When Jarome Iginla tallied his 24th assist of the season from Milan Lucic, for many the excitement would stop there, for Iginla it marked the 600th assist of his storied career.
“To be honest, I didn’t know that going in,” said Iginla on his 600th. “But I’m thankful for that, you don’t really think of those until you get there or whatever. I’m just thankful to keep playing as long as I have and I’m having a great time and it’s awesome to be here with these guys. It was fun to get it on that in a game against Vancouver for a lot of reasons. It was an important win and we also wanted to rebound from earlier in the season against them too.”
Humble to the core, Igilna has been a positive addition to the team from the start with many more to hopefully come as the season continues to progress into it’s final months.
“Well I didn’t realize that. I’m not that big on keeping up on these stats, or not very good at it I should say,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on Iginla’s 600th assist. “Good for him. It just kind of exemplifies the type of career that he’s had, and that he’s still having. He’s been a great player in this league for a long time, so you always like to see those kind of goals being accomplished. And in my mind, he’s got lots more left.”
Boston will look to continue carrying the momentum of their last two wins into contests against the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday, followed by a 3 pm matinee against Ottawa in Boston on Saturday. Those looking for a glimpse of 6’9 Chara representing Slovakia, the Olympic opening ceremonies will face-off on Friday at 11:30 am EST but won’t be broadcast until 7:30 pm EST on NBC.