BOSTON (CBS) — One of the most iconic scenes in comedic film history comes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when King Arthur comes across the Black Knight in the forest and the two engage in a memorable showdown. Arthur uses his sword to chop off the knight’s left arm, and then his right, yet the knight continues to fight. Arthur, left with no other choice, slices off the Black Knight’s leg, and then his other, leaving an angry stump who’s still unwilling to concede the fight, screaming, “I’ll bite your legs off!”
That, in a slightly (only slightly) bloodier form, is where the Boston Bruins’ season is at right now.
Down go Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee sprain).
Down goes Tuukka Rask (groin/ab strain).
Down go Andrew Ference and Daniel Paille.
Then, all in one brutal afternoon in Pittsburgh on the day Ference returned to the lineup, there go Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Max Sauve (with the B’s for emergency duty due to the aforementioned missing limbs), all with Benoit Pouliot out for the weekend.
It’s almost become comical – the Bruins standing up, emphatically stating, “I move for no man!” before each game, though we all know what’s going to come. They’re going to give their best shot, but with a lack of NHL manpower, it’s a fight that becomes harder to win with each passing game. A half-dozen key players out of the lineup? ‘Tis but a scratch!
They’ll never admit it, because hockey players are trained to not make excuses, but the injuries are just becoming too much for the team to overcome. If it wasn’t obvious before, seeing three men leave in one game on Sunday (and another in Johnny Boychuk struggle to the bench after absorbing a dangerous hit in the corner) should drive it home.
The Bruins build their team with depth, and it was that depth that led to their Stanley Cup victory last June. This season, at least the injuries have kept in line with the Bruins’ vision of being a complete team. Horton, Bergeron, Peverley, Pouliot and Paille give the team at least one injured forward on every line, the back end’s been jumbled for some time, and the backup goalie (who gets used more like a 1A than a No. 2) is out for at least the rest of the regular season.
Add it all up, and you’ve got the head coach leaning on moral victories after losses.
“I think with the situation that we had tonight – short bench, down to three lines, five [defensemen] – I think our guys battled hard. … We showed a lot of guts in being able at least be able to keep the pace, especially after we went down by three goals,” coach Claude Julien, who’s been able to avoid injury on the bench, said after Sunday’s 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh. “We got a couple of goals back. We had a great second period, but again, not enough at the end to get over that hump.”
Despite the injuries that continue to pile up, it would be an oversimplification to point to them as the only reason for the Bruins’ struggles. But really, any criticism of the team, whether it be inconsistency or failing to build leads or suddenly leaky goaltending, can be traced back to the reality that Julien’s been unable to dress the 20 players he’d like to every night. An inconsistent lineup breeds inconsistency.
And while every team in the NHL deals with injuries to different extents, the fact remains that each team’s situation is unique. The Bruins may not lead the league in man games lost to injury, but they are at least victims of some truly awful timing (there’s not yet a statistic for that, though this past month could provide the foundation).
Still, all credit to the Bruins, who refuse to use the injury list as an excuse.
“Guys gotta step up,” said Boychuk, who said he was OK despite his scary face-first collision with the boards late Sunday.
“There’s really only two ways to look at injuries, and that’s you can start feeling sorry for yourself as a group or do something about it,” said goalie Marty Turco, who finds himself on the Bruins’ roster solely due to one of those injuries. “Guys step up, whether it’s guys get more minutes or our best players and leaders take the reins and have everybody follow suit. Often you’ve just got to play a better team game.”
It’s true – injuries can be overcome, and the team needs to keep a mind-over-matter mentality if it wants to hang on to its division lead over the final month of the season. It’s just a lot harder to do when you’re missing so many players.
So for now, Julien will do what he can. He’ll put new defenseman Mike Mottau at forward if he has to, he’ll keep the emergency pipeline from Providence alive, and he’ll tell his players that they can beat any team on any night and that it’s about the players who are suited up on the ice and not the players who are wearing suits in the press box.
Just don’t expect it to work more than 50 percent of the time.
The fight left in the Bruins? It’s admirable, but it’s pretty clear that this is much more than just a flesh wound.