BOSTON (CBS) — I swore I would not write about Bruins forward Shawn Thornton’s water squirt at Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban at the end of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference second-round series in this space.
I promised to not write about the chest-thumping celebrations or arm-flexing taunts of Bruins forward Milan Lucic and Montreal forward Dale Weise.
I like to use this space for hockey, and all that nonsense that doesn’t involve putting pucks in the net or making saves or checking guys into the glass is all pretty much nonsense in my book.
Or at least it was nonsense until the Canadiens clinched their series victory against the Bruins with a 3-1 win in Game 7 at TD Garden. The Canadiens now advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers. If non-hockey antics do such a wonderful job of firing up the Canadiens, they have to be hoping the Rangers show as little maturity as the Bruins did over the past week and a half.
When the best-of-seven series was over, the Canadiens had taken three of four games, including the last two, from the Bruins mostly because of their potent power play, their edge in team speed, Carey Price’s lights-out goaltending and just enough grit to wear the Bruins down at key times. However, when the Bruins prevailed 4-2 in Game 5, it was hard to envision that we’d be at this point, discussing a Bruins loss.
And then came the water. Thornton not only pointed his water bottle and squeezed at Subban’s shield. The Bruins tough guy also laughed like one of those hyenas in The Lion King. It was all there on the NBCSN video. Thornton paid for his actions with a slight fine. The Bruins paid because a Montreal team that might’ve folded up camp after going down 3-2 and giving the Presidents’ Trophy winners their best challenge, instead went the other way and played even better.
The first 10-15 minutes of Game 6 told you all you needed to know about Montreal’s motivation. If it wasn’t just the idea of beating their archrivals or teaching Thornton a lesson for laughing. It was Lucic’s chest pounding that obviously lit a spark for the Canadiens. Weise proved that when he pounded his chest after his goal in Game 7. At the end of Game 6 Weise had also flexed his arm the way Lucic had one game earlier.
In Game 7, the Canadiens did everything they could to make sure the Bruins paid for their immature actions.
“Yeah I think as the series went on our motivation grew,” Weise said. “They just disrespected us in every single way and I don’t think they had any respect for us as a team. We’ll leave it at that. The better team won.”
Lucic was enflamed by the comments from Weise and others about disrespect.
“I don’t know what they’re talking about, disrespect,” Lucic said.
He also had problems with Weise bringing up what was said in the handshake line. I’m going to stay out of that one because I don’t know what was said I don’t know why Weise thought it was important to bring it up.
But the chest pounding and the water squirting and the flexing, that should be above these Bruins by now. They’ve been in the playoffs seven straight years and had some bitter battles against their most hated rivals. They’ve now played nine Game 7’s. As usual, Bruins coach Claude Julien defended his players.
“You talk about disrespect, and I don’t think we disrespected them,” Julien said. “There’s a rivalry here and what I said in French was we don’t like each other because it’s a rivalry. And at the same time, the pounding of the chest — the people who have been here, have seen us do that all year, because it’s related to Boston Strong. Our guys take some pride in what’s happened in Boston Strong, and unfortunately, everything we did seemed to be seen as disrespect in Montreal.
“And we heard a lot of that whining in terms of the series, but it had nothing to do with disrespect, and whether it’s flexing a muscle — that’s gamesmanship. It’s like that in every round. So it’s too bad that it gets blown out of proportion, but you know what? They won the series, fair and square. They were the better team tonight, and you have to respect that. So it’s up to us to move on, and them to keep moving toward their goal. “
Julien has that right; the Canadiens won this series with better hockey. But in a matchup that was somewhat even in terms of talent and skill, everything can provide one side an edge. The Bruins gave the Canadiens that edge, which is particularly surprising considering the Bruins are typically tight-lipped as the New England Patriots and never give anyone bulletin-board material.
There’s a difference between exuberance and taunting. The Bruins probably crossed that line. Of course, had they played even an ounce like the world-beaters they were in March, they could’ve sprayed the entire Canadiens team with seltzer and mooned the bench. They would’ve won this series in five games.
Instead they had an evil combination of poor play and an extra-motivated opponent. And now they have a longer summer to plan out their celebrations for next season.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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