By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — ‘Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you play ice hockey for the Boston Bruins or Washington Capitals.READ MORE: Westford Academy To Change 'Grey Ghost' Mascot After Complaints
The two top teams in the Eastern Conference met up on Monday night for their final game before the Christmas break. One might think that with an arena full of happy fans, a pleasant evening of ice hockey might be on tap. In this one, such an assumption would have been slightly off the mark.
The Bruins opened up a 4-0 lead in the first period and took a 5-1 lead into the third, en route to a 7-3 win. Despite the blowout win, the Bruins were badly outshot by a 42-17 margin in the game. A strong night from Tuukka Rask and a poor night from Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov led to mounting frustration throughout the evening. And it was in that third period that an already-chippy game got kicked up a notch.
It really began in earnest when David Pastrnak delivered a clean but hard hit on Nick Jensen against the end boards behind the Washington net. This hit caught the eye of noted pain-deliverer Tom Wilson, who also took it upon himself to spear Pastrnak in the crotch when the opportunity presented itself in this game. He was successful in this endeavor.
Tom Wilson goes for Pasta’s meatballs pic.twitter.com/mmOxgwUQ7N
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 24, 2019
Shortly thereafter, as Pastrnak was beginning to make his way to the Boston bench, Wilson delivered a hit on the Boston forward when the puck was nowhere in the vicinity of either player.
That shot led to Pastrnak responding with a holly jolly punch to the face, and a full-on brouhaha ensued. Unfortunately for Pastrnak, the linesman sized up the two combatants and decided that tackling Pastrnak was the safest course of action. It was an easy call for the linesman, but it also resulted in Pastrnak getting whacked with some free shots by Wilson while Pastrnak was being pinned to the ice.
Connor Clifton tried to save his fallen comrade, and ended up not just failing to do so but also taking a shot to the throat by Wilson. Brad Marchand tried to rip Wilson off Pastrnak, too, which prompted Alex Ovechkin to nearly unscrew Marchand’s head.
It was not a very merry scene.
Tom Wilson gets ejected late in the game pic.twitter.com/gFnTjLgpaz
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 24, 2019
The two players do have some recent history, too.
Tom Wilson goes after David Pastrnak and heads to the box for interference pic.twitter.com/zlpoVCmULF
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) December 12, 2019
(In that game, Wilson actually fought Zdeno Chara. The Bruins captain, though, was unavailable for Monday’s game after undergoing jaw surgery. Given how things played out, it was a good game to miss if Chara was dealing with jaw problems.)
Once the ice shavings settled, Wilson was hit with a roughing penalty and a misconduct penalty, ending his night and sending him on his Christmas break a few minutes early. Pastrnak also took a roughing penalty.READ MORE: More Than 1,200 Mass. Kids Test Positive For COVID-19 This Week
The Bruins later stretched their lead to 6-1, and they had the game fully in hand in the final two minutes, when T.J. Oshie delivered a hit on Charlie McAvoy that left the Bruins defenseman in some serious pain.
The hit was likely delivered within the periphery of the rules, and thus it won’t likely lead to a suspension or fine for Oshie. But it was still a hit that no doubt was delivered with an intent to injure.
Oshie hit on McAvoy pic.twitter.com/7ITJhE3rYF
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 24, 2019
Oshie wasn’t penalized on the hit, and play continued with McAvoy down on the ice for quite a while before eventually inching his way to the Boston bench, where he immediately doubled over in pain. Notably, either from exhaustion or from a lack of size and brawn, nobody on the ice for the Bruins responded to the hit on McAvoy by going after Oshie. (Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak, Marchand, and John Moore were on the ice for Boston at the time.) In today’s NHL, even clean hits lead to players getting jumped immediately, but in this case, the Bruins decided that letting Santa put Oshie on the naughty list was punishment enough.
Earlier in the game, Wilson ended Torey Krug’s night early with a heavy, clean hit that sent the undersized Bruins D-man crashing into the boards.
Torey Krug takes a heavy hit from Tom Wilson and heads down the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/P2ra99HjiD
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 24, 2019
Krug didn’t return to the game after absorbing that shot.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was asked about the physicality of the game, and he made sure to note that if Marchand had been the one delivering a spear to the loins of an opponent or punching an opponent through the arms of a linesman, a call from the NHL’s department of player safety would surely follow.
“There was a few incidents tonight, I imagine player safety might be a little bit busy,” Cassidy said. “I know if it was a guy like a Marchand of the world, they’d be getting looked at, so there was a few spears and some of those. I don’t want to say it was clean or dirty because I have not looked at it and imagine it will get looked at. They’ll have to judge that accordingly, right?”
Marchand laughed when told of his coach’s assessment.
“Yeah, I would,” Marchand said regarding whether he’d be getting that phone call. “They … I didn’t see every play. There’s definitely a few slewfoots out there. We know I’ve been victimized of that. I don’t see everything out there. They play hard, they play physical, and things happen when you play that way. So, you know, the league will take care of whatever they feel like taking care of, and we’ll move on.”
Marchand said the rough stuff was to be expected, especially after the Bruins took a huge lead early on.
“I mean, they started running around. You could tell they were a little frustrated,” Marchand said. “We’ve been in a few pretty good games this year, but that was probably one of the most physical ones we’ve been a part of. But it was fun to play. … When we got up by a few, some of the guys started running around. Kind of what they do. … We were ready for that and we knew it was going to happen. But we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
The Bruins now have three days to lick their wounds and open their presents. One of those presents will be a trip to Buffalo, which isn’t always high on most people’s Christmas wish lists. Fortunately, the Bruins won’t have to see Wilson or the Capitals again this season, unless the two teams meet up in the Eastern Conference finals. If that meeting were to take place, Cassidy knows that the game plan won’t be easy to execute.
“Clearly, they’re a physical team, and there’s two different approaches. You can match them hit for hit or you can use your foot speed and smarts and stay out of the box and try to frustrate them,” Cassidy explained. “I think what we did early in the first period was probably a smaller lineup for us, so it’s something to think about that way. At the end of the day, you do have to win your puck battles against them, against big men, which is a challenge for any team in this league, that’s why they’re in first place. I think they do it well. … I don’t know if I’m answering your question, and you know me, I don’t like to answer something that may or may not happen five months from now, but that’s kind of the formula, easier said than done, against Washington. Because they win a lot of hockey games, even though coaches all around the league probably have good game plans. They’ve just got good players and they play their system well.”MORE NEWS: 7-Year-Old Girl Grazed By Bullet On Talbot Ave. In Dorchester
If that meeting does take place next May, it may be one for the ages. If these two teams can generate this level of hatred on the eve of Christmas Eve, just imagine what they could do with a Stanley Cup Final berth on the line.