BOSTON (CBS) — When you have a reputation you believe is false and then you live up to it, well … you don’t really have the right to preach against what others say about you.
The Bruins lived up to the reputation as goons during the first period of their win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at TD Garden.
Overshadowing the Bruins’ dramatic third-period comeback that capped the 3-2 victory was the way the Black and Gold responded to some of the Penguins’ dastardly deeds.
After the Bruins’ morning skate Saturday, coach Claude Julien was asked about his team’s decision to not go after Max Pacioretty for his hit on Johnny Boychuk in Montreal on Thursday. The Bruins pretty much agreed the hit was worthy of a two-minute minor but not much else.
Julien talked about the “fine line” between defending a teammate and causing a ruckus over the type of hockey hit that would be celebrated if that teammate was the one throwing the hit instead of receiving it. Julien’s Bruins not only crossed that line after Brooks Orpik knocked out Bruins forward Loui Eriksson on the game’s opening shift, they jumped over it, stomped it and peed on it.
Luckily for them, they didn’t cost themselves two points.
Orpik’s hit could’ve been called interference, but it was close. Had the roles been reversed and Boychuk had drilled, say, Chris Kunitz, the Bruins and their fans would’ve celebrated it and it would’ve been added to the team’s intro video at the Garden. Instead it became a source for the Bruins to forget what they were really on the ice to do.
First Zdeno Chara cross-checked Kunitz just seconds after Eriksson made his way to the bench. The Bruins killed off that penalty, but then Thornton made his first attempt to get Orpik to fight once the power play was over. For his efforts, Thornton was given a roughing penalty. Forty-nine seconds later, the Penguins had a power play goal off Kunitz’s stick (and Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara).
The nonsense didn’t end there. And it came from both sides with high hits, slashes and a fight between Boston’s Milan Lucic and Deryk Engelland. Then Brad Marchand was tripped by Sidney Crosby and was kneed in the head by James Neal. The Bruins were going to go on the power play until Thornton wrote his name into Bruins’ infamy alongside Marty McSorley by pulling Orpik down from behind and the throwing two punches at Orpik’s face before Thornton was restrained and then the stretcher came to take Orpik to the hospital.
Thornton’s been suspension-free during his near-decade in the NHL. That won’t continue. And his constant talk of adhering to “The Code” will have to end as well. Punching a guy while he’s down is at least among the top three most egregious things a player can do during a hockey game. Orpik’s teammate Sidney Crosby said the defenseman didn’t want to fight because the Penguins are shorthanded on their back end. If that was the reason, or even if he was just a chicken, that’s his right. Crosby went on to add that had the Bruins just taken a number and gone after Orpik within the flow of the game, all would’ve been well. Instead the Bruins, namely Thornton, disregarded the line and embarrassed the organization and the city.
The Bruins pride themselves on being a blend of skill and physicality. That’s what won them the Stanley Cup in 2011, which the Vancouver Canucks and their fans are more than willing to cry to you about if asked. There’s a perception around the league – despite supplemental discipline that’s been doled out to Marchand, Lucic and others over the years – that the Bruins get away with things. The word around the league is that the Bruins are more interested in beating you up than beating you on the scoreboard, and that the W’s are just a result of the physical punishment.
Any regular observer of the team knows the Bruins don’t thug it up as much as their reputation says. And they get as much grief from referees and the league as other teams that are built to play championship hockey with multiple elements in effect.
Bruins coach Claude Julien was given a chance to express disappointment that his team didn’t respond with hockey and instead decided to do a “Slap Shot” routine.
“Again, you know, I think emotions happen there,” Julien said. “Why did that happen? Maybe you should ask yourself that question. Why did all that stuff happen afterwards?”
Orpik throwing a borderline hit should’ve been no excuse for what the Bruins did over the next 19 minutes of the period. That’s a ridiculous answer. In the aftermath of an emotional game, I’m sure Julien was just trying to defend his players and avoid making things worse when league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan makes his decision. Julien went on to say that there was plenty of blame for both teams to share.
But the shares weren’t equal. The Bruins were more to blame after this one, even if the only reason was that Thornton sent Orpik to the hospital on a stretcher. And that wasn’t their only transgression.
The Bruins have given their detractors Exhibit A for wishing them ill will. On the scoreboard they got away with losing their minds once. They better not bank on that becoming a regular thing.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.