It has often been said that the Boston Bruins are at their best when they are emotionally invested in the game. This often comes from a few good checks, the occasional dropping of the gloves and a level of grinding play that can take a lot of out of any player, even those who do this throughout the season. However, there is a fine line between playing with emotion and playing with a lack of discipline. For the Bruins, that line was clearly crossed on Monday night when they played the Montreal Canadiens.
Let’s face it—there is no love lost between these two teams. The animosity, some would call it intense hate, spans decades. While the fans of most teams dislike other teams when they come to town, the rivalries between some teams border on defying logic and the rivalry between the Bruins and the Canadiens, along with that between their respective fans is the stuff of legends.
Mild-mannered, little old ladies, drinking their tea and eating their cake have been known to hurl the said cake at their television when the Bruins are playing the Habs. These sweet women who wouldn’t wish harm to a fly have wished that the great Maurice “Rocket” Richard would fall down a flight of stairs—never mind that when the epithet was hissed he had been retired for many, many years. And yes, a Habs-loving son of a Bruins-loving mother shared both of these stories. Not quite sure how she let him become a Habs fan.
So, if a sweet-tempered 90-something woman could get so riled up, imagine what happens to the players of both teams in the heat of battle. Games between these two teams have resulted in line brawls (including the goalies), fisticuffs at ever whistle, and maybe even a goal or two scored.
However, it would appear that the Canadiens have discovered that if they can goad the Bruins to cross that invisible line between emotion and anarchy, then they can beat the Bruins. At least that would appear to be the case Monday night. Canadien’s Alexei Emelin had a low, questionable hit, on Milan Lucic, which went uncalled. Bruins Zdeno Chara took exception and was immediately called for a roughing when he went and knocked Emelin down. This happened just 1:19 into the game.
Just 3:31 later Kevan Miller would cross-check Canadiens Dale Weise into the boards, and would find himself invited to dance in retribution by Travis Moen. And because of the additional cross-checking the Bruins would again be on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, Emelin would score on the power play.
The second period would likewise find the Bruins cooling their skates in the box four more times, the worst being the clearly undisciplined roughing call on Johnny Boychuk when he grabbed P.K. Subban and threw him down on the ice. Certainly not the best of decisions by Boychuk and clearly brought on by a mounting frustration born of his team spending a lot of time in the box and their inability to solve goaltender Peter Budaj. However, Subban was not exactly an innocent bystander in this particular incident.
Boychuk had come up on Subban with a clean hip check, and then gone down on his knees, at which point Subban took the opportunity to hit Boychuk in the head. Boychuck was not happy, dropped his gloves and wanted Subban to answer for his actions. Subban turned away, hands outstretched looking at the referee as if to say, “I’m innocent here – make him stop.” Unfortunately, Boychuk saw rouge at that point and grabbed Subban who went limp, and Boychuk threw him to the ice. Boychuk had two minutes in the box to reconsider his decision should the two meet in a future game.
The third period would see the Bruins rein in their emotion some and concentrate on trying to put the puck in the net. And the referees turned their attention to the Canadiens who received four penalties in that period.
Games such as this, where the whistle is always blowing for this infraction or that one, are not often enjoyable games to watch from a hockey standpoint. There are too many instances where the special teams are playing—so there is a lot of passing by the team on the power play and a lot of trying to ice the puck by the team on the penalty. The stopping and starting makes for a ragged game, rather than fans getting to appreciate the skill and flow of the teams passing the puck and skating north and south. Of course such subtleties are often overlooked in rivalries such as this.
However, in the end, while the Bruins would manage to tie the game with 5:26 remaining in the third period, they would fall in the fourth round of the shootout.
Head coach Claude Julien, when asked by The Pink Puck, postgame, about how the Bruins could keep from letting the Canadiens or other teams push them past that line into undisciplined play, responded matter-of-factly.
“Simple, you don’t let it happen,” he said. “It happened a little bit tonight. But I can tell you, like I said before, we could sweep a team in the regular season and we’re gonna get to the playoffs and play them and I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy. The same, just because they win tonight in the shootout, doesn’t mean we’re going to go to the playoffs and have the same kind of situation here.”
The Bruins often have difficult games, even when they haven’t been in three different time zones in the last few days—an excuse they would never use—but perhaps the hardest part is skating close to that emotional edge without going over. When they do skate close to the edge, they play Bruins hockey and they win games.