However, never let it be said that yours truly refuses to give props where props are due.
There is considerable similarity between the Boston Bruins in these playoffs and Broad Street Bullies of old in that they approach the game with virtually the same theory with respect to the officiating, whether they know it or not.
Hear us out here — don’t go jumping off the handle. This isn’t to say the Bruins are picking fights, going up into the stands or seriously injuring opponents the way the ’70s Philadelphia Flyers who earned that nickname did. That would be absurd and never tolerated in the 21st century NHL, which exists in a nanny state whereby everything must be made as safe as possible at all times for the participants and spectators. Perish the thought.
But Wednesday night’s Game 3 win over the Penguins was a classic case of how the absurdly abrasive style of the Bruins can be so tremendously effective. And it’s built on one overriding theory about officiating that they share with the Flyers: No matter how strict or determined a set of referees might be with respect to getting a grip on a game, they can only call so much.
That was exactly the same theory the Bullies used. They would punch and face wash and slash, and if you were willing, fight all night long to the point where there should have been a penalty or two on every shift. But the referee (only one then) couldn’t do that. He couldn’t call a penalty or even two on every shift. No way. So after the first three or four whistles, they tend to be less in evidence or even put away until something really egregious comes along. But you can’t call something on every shift.
The Bruins have brought this theory into today’s game and cleaned it up to fit the modern era. And of course, just like in the era of the Bullies, it’s based on having outstanding goaltending and terrific penalty killing, which the Bruins are enjoying in abundance in these playoffs.
Look at Wednesday’s game, a 2-1 Bruins win in double overtime. The officials were determined to make sure Boston didn’t get away with murder against the Pens and called the game tight — as tight as they dare.
Boston took the first penalty and four of the first five, then even got a fifth when they had too many men, and they killed them all. But through all these calls, they kept up the jabbing, hooking, holding, tugging, milling around after whistles the whole night, completely driving the Penguins to distraction.
Seriously, have you ever seen Sidney Crosby look so flummoxed and off his game? And you could say the same thing about Kris Letang and many others, doing things out of character trying to retaliate, showing their frustration, which has been compounded by not being able to score on the power play.
And by the time the game reaches double overtime, the officials have seen so much jabbing and stick work from both teams that nobody even notices Jaromir Jagr hook Evgeni Malkin of the puck to start the play to the winning goal. It’s all happened 50 times previously in the same game. It looks like every other play, the officials immune to it.
Bruins coach Claude Julien mentioned Jagr in his press conference Thursday with respect to how he’s buying into what the Bruins are doing. He probably means their system, or the type of commitment and courage Boston centre Greg Campbell showed killing penalties. But then again, when was the last time you saw Jagr bumping and yarding guys off the puck with his stick the way he did last night.
“You don’t have to look any further than Jags,” said Julien. “He’s played a certain way his whole career, and now he sees a team that plays a certain way and he’s bought into it and gets rewarded the last couple of games some pretty important shifts.
“But our guys believe in what we’re trying to do here as a group. We’ve won that way and it doesn’t matter who comes in, eventually those guys realize how strong a belief we have and they just jump in.”
Now this isn’t to say the Bruins aren’t a great team or don’t have great players. Of course they do. Goalie Tuukka Rask is lights out, and ditto Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, David Krejci and others, all terrific character guys.
Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish, Bill Barber and others were great players on the Flyers too. You don’t win Cups without great players.
And neither is this to blame them. Heavens, what they’re doing is working wonderfully well. What they’re doing ideally suits the roster they have, the approach to the game perfectly tailored to the strength of their roster, and everyone else would love to have many of the same players.
They’re within hailing distance of their second Cup in three years and if this were happening in Vancouver or any other NHL city, their fans would be justifiably over the moon about it.
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Beauty job Tony!