By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The world at large tends to understand things better when they are presented in their simplest forms: us vs. them, red vs. blue, good vs. bad. And so, even though a sport like hockey is played at a breakneck speed and encourages violence at every turn, there tends to be at least one player who emerges over the course of a playoff series as “the bad guy.”
And it didn’t take long for Mark Borowiecki to claim that title on Wednesday night.
In Game 1 between the Bruins and Senators, the Ottawa D-man decided to welcome 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy by taking a (perfectly clean and legal) run at the Bruins’ prized rookie, directly in front of the Boston bench.
McAvoy showed some big league poise to wait long enough, knowing the hit was coming, to send a breakout pass to spring Patrice Bergeron for a nice scoring opportunity, and he popped right back up from the hit unharmed. It was just McAvoy’s second NHL shift, and he got leveled.
If that was all Borowiecki did to antagonize the Bruins, it wouldn’t even have registered. But it was just his warm-up act.
Five minutes into the second period, Borowiecki again charged hard toward a puck-carrying Bruins D-man at the Boston blue line. This time, it was Colin Miller, who didn’t hang on to the puck nearly as long as McAvoy did. Miller instead sent an indirect pass off the boards to David Backes.
But Borowiecki was committed to throwing the hit. Miller tried to avoid it. Borowiecki continued through with the hit, ending up making knee-on-knee contact with Miller.
Miller was left injured for the moment but ended up returning to the ice 10 minutes later. Borowiecki served a two-minute minor for tripping.
It’s worth noting that Borowiecki has a history of not pulling up after committing early to a hit, as he was suspended two games for boarding Tyler Toffoli this past December.
“I’m never looking to hurt people, but I need to play hard,” Borowiecki said at the time about the hit on Toffoli. “I got a little over-excited and that was the case.”
It may have once again been the case in Game 1 for Borowiecki, who led the NHL in hits this season by a large margin. Instead of two games, Borowiecki got two minutes.
[graphiq id=”e0uNXkEiOfb” title=”Mark Borowiecki Points by Season” width=”600″ height=”464″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/e0uNXkEiOfb” ]
The Miller play drew the most attention, but many Bruins fans might have missed Borowiecki’s next bit of work, which came just moments after Frank Vatrano scored the game-tying goal in the third period.
Veteran forward Dominic Moore planted himself in front of the vacated goalmouth in order to screen goaltender Craig Anderson. Vatrano fired from the high slot, beating Anderson to the blocker side. It was a celebratory moment for the Bruins on the ice — except for Moore, who was the recipient of a high cross-check from Borowiecki in the back of the nameplate.
Here’s a still shot showing the lateness of the hit:
And here’s where the point of contact was:
That’s not very polite.
But it is, of course, playoff hockey.
Senators fans are sure to love it, Bruins fans are sure to get riled up, and that’s largely what keeps this world spinning.
But the Bruins will need to keep their cool with regard to Borowiecki going forward. He’s gotten under Brad Marchand’s skin in the past, leading to Marchand upending the defenseman in a play that led to a suspension which prevented Marchand from playing in the Winter Classic.
Just two days prior to that hit, Borowiecki unloaded on Frank Vatrano in a game in Ottawa:
Later in the game with the Marchand hit, Borowiecki decided to mix it up with Zdeno Chara. It didn’t go well for him … but he did get Chara off the ice and into the penalty box.
And just two weeks ago, Borowiecki destroyed David Pastrnak, sending him whiplashing into the crossbar:
Clearly, in a very short time, Borowiecki has mastered the art of bothering the Boston Bruins. And he kept it up in Wednesday’s Game 1.
The knee-on-knee hit may have been borderline, but the rest of his game was mostly within the rules. Whatever happens going forward, No. 74 will be under close watch from all viewers for the remainder of the series.