BOSTON (CBS) – It’s hard to believe, but before the 2011 Stanley Cup finals there was no Bruins-Vancouver Canucks rivalry.
Before Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron, before Aaron Rome clocked Nathan Horton, before Brad Marchand relentlessly jabbed Daniel Sedin, the Bruins and Canucks were just a couple teams playing in different conferences on opposite sides of North America that saw one another about twice a season.
The venom that built up in the series aided the Bruins’ championship-clinching victory and spilled over into the next season’s regular season rematch.
As non-divisional foes for more 40 years and non-conference foes for a little more than 30 years, the Bruins and Detroit Red Wings share a similar lack of familiarity heading into the upcoming first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series that the Bruins had with the 2011 Canucks. Boston and Detroit met four times this season (with the Red Wings winning three times), but three of those games were way back in October and November. The Bruins and Red Wings didn’t play one another in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and before that were playing just twice a year for decades.
So starting with Game 1 on Friday at TD Garden, the Bruins are going to have to work their way into a playoff frenzy without much in the way of external sources of venom. Marchand, a player known for raising his level of play along with the temperature of the matchup, believes the Bruins will be all right even if they don’t hate Detroit.
“It all depends. I mean every series is different,” Marchand said after the Bruins’ first playoff practice Tuesday at the Garden. “I mean you look at Chicago last year, we really didn’t have any hate for them at all. And so I mean every team’s different and we just have to find a way to focus on how we play and play our game. We have to play mean and gritty and battle hard and I’m sure they’re going to do the same and that’ll create some hatred right there.”
Yeah, the Bruins didn’t hate Chicago. This year in two matchups, the two teams again showed mutual respect. The only problem is Chicago went into this season’s games as the defending Stanley Cup champs, while the Bruins were the runner-up. In order to avoid an upset, the Bruins might want to lower their respect level and increase their rowdiness. Obviously the Bruins are going to play physical. But there’s another level of physicality that the Bruins used in 2011, when they not only played the body but passed, shot and defended like beasts.
With the exception of a questionable hit by Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader on Marchand in October, the Bruins and Red Wings don’t have much of a history. There were some post-whistle scrums in the teams’ matchup earlier this month, but nothing that would make the Bruins or their fans “Montreal” mad.
The Red Wings aren’t likely to cross the line and aid the Bruins’ cause on the road to getting infuriated. During the regular season Detroit was fourth with just 725 penalty minutes. The Bruins were 15th with 886.
Now the Bruins could sit back and hope that one of the inexperienced Red Wings will do something stupid under playoff pressure and light the fuse. But it’ll be better if the Bruins push as close to the line as they can get and try to intimidate the young Red Wings. Maybe when provoked, the Red Wings will do something silly, like get in goaltender Tuukka Rask’s face or take a cheap shot at one of Boston’s stars. Even if the Red Wings continue their choir boy ways, the Bruins will benefit from attempting to make this series more about physicality and skill rather than just skill. When it comes to the Bruins, the physicality – like from a Milan Lucic or Shawn Thornton hit – typically begets high-caliber play. And the level of both usually rises neck and neck on the intensity scale.
For various reasons, including injuries, the Bruins were unable to dictate the style of play against the Blackhawks and it cost them. Part of that might’ve also been the reverence. The Bruins should apply their lessons learned from last June and make the Red Wings pay by creating the type of animosity, even if it’s artificial, that it takes for the Bruins to play an all-around, physical game at the level that could make them champions again.
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