There they were, on the precipice of disaster, and the excuse was prepared. How do you go on with the struggle when you have lost your best player? The NHL gave the Bruins every reason to quit on the season, ripping the collective heart from the team’s chest by multiplying the miscarriage of justice by allowing Matt Cooke to skate without so much as an admonishment for ending the season of talented B’s forward Marc Savard. Bruins fans, and fans of NHL hockey in general, were bewildered by the clear lack of interest in player protection by the NHL, and in hiding behind the legalese of “lack of precedent” left many fans to wonder who would be the next victim of a predatory hit this season.
The Bruins took the ice against the Flyers on Thursday, in the same fragile state as their fans. They were to face a Flyers squad who has regrouped with Peter Laviolette at the helm, and having taken virtually opposite path from the B’s since their extra inning affair at Fenway on Jan 1st. Following the decision by the NHL not to impose supplementary discipline I find it important to note that GM Peter Chiarelli made public comment during his presser that he was disappointed by the lack of Bruins’ on-ice response to Cooke’s targeting of Savard and would, “speak to the team about it”, a sign, perhaps at long last a glimmer of hope that management would finally take it upon itself be the ones to challenge the pride of its players.
Thankfully I DVR’ed the game, as my post work commute did not get me home until the first intermission. I elected to watch the 1st period (instead of listening to Mike Milbury during intermission) and what did I see?? A glimpse of the team I had hoped would emerge from the Olympic break, a fierce, chippy, edgy, high flying team. When did it appear? After Mark Stuart sent the message that taking liberties with the Bruins would no longer be tolerated, not on his watch. Stuart brawled (twice on the night), dished out hits, and regulated the defensive third of the ice like his team’s season depended on it, and indeed it may have. On the other end of the sheet the line of Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, and Marco Sturm put the team on its shoulders and put the Flyers on their heels. For one glorious game the team played, hit, and scrapped for each other, and given the news of the loss of Savard for the season, it was a tremendous display of heart and pride; the icing on the cake was the game took place on the road. I felt as though I had taken a time machine back to the 08-09 season, as Leighton being pulled was reminiscent of the way Bruins had made a habit of giving opponents’ goalies sunstroke last season. Instead of desperately trying to hold onto to a lead the Bruins stuck the fork in the Flyers when Bergeron loaded Chris Pronger on his own private bus and dropped him off at school for the B’s 5th goal.
This is the Bruins team we expected to see, they showed a meanness that has been noticeably absent, created goal scoring opportunities in transition, and were solid on the forecheck. Is this a sign of what is to come for the Bruins?? The NHL front office turned their back on the Bruins and in doing so may have finally flipped the team’s switch for an “us against the world” approach. In 8th place the Bruins have only had their full and healthy roster for 6 games this season, and have seen their fair share of obstacles on their path to playoffs this season. Heading into Montreal, the Bruins stand two points behind the Flyers and Habs with 3 games in hand. What I wouldn’t give to have the Bruins storm the castle and throw down with the Habs, and send a message that they “will not go quietly into that good night”, in fact they need to send the message that they are going to brawl their way back to being the team that no one wants to draw in the playoffs, least of all the defending Stanley Cup champs.
The game tonight could well be the defining moment for the ’09-10 Bruins and their fans…I hope with every Black and Gold bone in my body it is the team that took the ice against the Flyers on Thursday night.
7th Player Award: the player that has exceeded expectations…while some would argue the team has largely underperformed most of the season, there are certainly a few worth candidates for what is arguably the team’s most prestigious honor, as it is given by the fans.
Patrice Bergeron: He has made throngs of “fans” eat plates worth of crow for counting him out. He is one of the premier face-off men in the league, and has been the team’s most consistent player all year. He never backs down from a challenge, and in what has been a frustrating year for the team has time and time again found a way to elevate his game. I believed in Bergy, but what he did to Pronger in that game this week was the exclamation point for me. Bergy should be wearing the “C” for this team, his leadership and understanding of what it means to be a Bruin sets him apart, and he is my vote for the Bruins 7th Player Award.
Honorable mention: Mark Recchi: DinoRex wanted to come back to the B’s for one more shot at winning a Cup in Boston. He has been a “bargain” given that he is basically playing in Boston for free. After suffering through kidney stones in the playoff series with the ‘Canes he proved what a warrior he truly is and what a great team first guy to have in the room. Since his arrival at the trade deadline last season, Rex has had great chemistry with Bergy, and I believe has been key to Bergy regaining his confidence. Rex has been unselfish, and is a true throw back to the Neely era.
Honorable mention: Tuukka Rask: I know Milkkrate is the “sexy” choice for the 7th Player, as he sits atop the league in GAA. As a rookie he has more than lived up to expectations, as he and Tim Thomas have certainly not been the reason for the Bruins struggles. Tuukka is the netminder that he was projected to be, and probably a year earlier than the cautiously optimistic (or glass half-empty) fans dared he would be. If not for Bergeron’s comeback some might be able to sway me in Tuukka’s direction, but I am sure there will be a 7th Player Award in the young man’s future.
About the Author: NHL Blogger, a fan of the Boston Bruins for 40 years, mom to the famous/notorious Bruins dog blogger, The Pup. The Pup is a savvy hockey dog in search of cookies (the jar is on the top shelf).