The Boston Bruins came into Saturday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a three-game losing streak—the longest so far this season despite their ongoing injury issues of key players. The Bruins are a physical team and when they play to that edge, they often control the game and limit the other team in chances.
The chippiness started almost immediately with some pushing and shoving after the first whistle. And it also resulted in Charlie McAvoy going to the box for a cross check just thirteen seconds into the game, as he hit Mitch Marner. While the Bruins would make the kill, this incident would undoubtedly be the impetus for a late hit on McAvoy much later in the game when the Bruins were up 6-1 and McAvoy had passed the puck and perhaps should have been keeping his head on a swivel.
In such a fast-paced game, it is hard for referees and sometimes players to think in terms of tenths of seconds, but the NHL says that 0.6 seconds is all a player gets in time to hit the opponent who has passed the puck. Zach Hyman’s hit on McAvoy was late, and many suspect it was a result of McAvoy’s earlier penalty. For the Bruins, who had just got McAvoy back—he was playing in only his second game after being out with a concussion—it was not a hit they felt was appropriate.
“Obviously, we took exception to it. I find that we’re at a state of kind of flux with no instigator, the tough guys kind of being out of the game. I think there [was] typically a tough guy on each team that kind of policed their own team even more than other teams because if shenanigans go down now he’s got to face…or the tough guy goes after the offender,” David Backes shared after the game. “You know, Griz [Matt Grzelcyk] stands up for our teammate and rightfully so and does a heck of a job. Tip your cap to him. But, you know, hopefully Charlie is okay. And exceptions like that, in a game that’s solely in hand, you need to stick up for your guys and I think we made a little bit of a statement after that. But, the old days, it made you yearn for it a bit, at least from my perspective on the bench.”
Grzelcyk, who played with McAvoy at Boston University, happened to be the closest to Hyman after the hit, and he was willing to take Hyman to task. That was actually the second fight of the game, the first taking place between Nazem Kadri and Brandon Carlo earlier in the second. Kadri felt he had taken enough cheap hits and wanted to make his statement. He was also hoping it would ignite the Maple Leafs, who at that point were down 2-0 on the score board. Instead, as the horn sounded the end of the second period, the Bruins would head off with a 3-0 lead.
The third period picked up where the previous one left off, with physical play and goals being scored. Ryan Donato’s goal at 6:13 was the sixth of the game for Boston and the third of the period. Toronto replaced Frederick Andersen with Garret Sparks, and about three and a half minutes later Hyman’s hit on McAvoy would put the match to a powder keg that had been close to igniting a few times. This was just twenty seconds after the Maple Leafs had scored their first goal of the game, Auston Matthews making it a 6-1 game. Many felt that given the score that Hyman should have considered easing up on his hit.
Here are three angles of the Hyman hit on McAvoy: pic.twitter.com/rG9C5VrSJz
— Brandon Share-Cohen (@BShareCohen) December 9, 2018
The Bruins would not get a power play from Hyman’s hit. With 10:07 remaining in the final frame, Hyman was assessed a five-minute major for interference, five minutes for fighting and a ten-minute game misconduct. Grzelcyk got a five-minute major for cross checking, five minutes for fighting and two ten-minute game misconducts, one likely a result of his fight strap coming loose while he and Hyman were tussling. They would both head to the showers early.
Roughly a minute later, as Toronto’s Morgan Reilly was in the neutral zone coming close to the Bruins’ blue line and passing the puck, Chris Wagner came along at quite a speed and hit Reilly, who went down. Like the Bruins before, Toronto’s players took exception to this hit and Ron Hainsey invited Wagner to drop the gloves. It wasn’t much of a fight, though for the third home game in a row, Wagner’s nose would get the brunt of things, but both players were sent off for fighting, while Wagner accrued an additional two minutes for charging and a ten-minute misconduct. It was during this power play that Andreas Johnsson notched his seventh of the season for Toronto and gave his team a second goal, and the last goal scored of a 6-2 game.
— Nathan Caranci (@NathanCaranci) December 9, 2018
#NHLbruins coach Bruce Cassidy on his team's response to Hyman late hit on McAvoy: "I thought Wagner delivered a good check to Rielly, open ice. He was clean with his shoulder. They want to play hard to the final whistle then we’ll certainly go right along with them."
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) December 9, 2018
There certainly is no love lost between these two teams, especially since the 2013 playoffs when the Bruins were losing 4-1 in Game 7 of Round One and managed to come back to win it in overtime. Bitterness like that doesn’t go away easily. However, the Bruins, when playing true to their identity, use their hits and physicality to take the time and space away from skill players. And given that the Leafs iced the likes of John Tavares, Matthews, and the recently re-signed William Nylander, among a host of skilled players, it was perhaps not surprising that Boston pulled out all the stops while on home ice.