By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With less than a month to go in the regular season, we know this much: A potential first-round playoff matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals would be spicy.READ MORE: Bruins Beat Rangers 4-0 For 5th Victory In 6 Games
The two teams have gone at it seven times this season, with the Bruins earning 10 of a possible 14 points with their 4-1-2 record in the head-to-head matchups with the division-leading Capitals. Washington has earned six points in the seven contests, going 3-4-0 vs. Boston thus far. It’s been largely a heavyweight matchup, both in terms of the hockey and the extracurriculars. Sunday’s game included 35 total penalty minutes, bringing the season average to 28 PIMs per game between the two teams. Emotions have run so high that we’ve seen Patrice Bergeron restraining Zdeno Chara from going after Brad Marchand. Wild times.
Unsurprisingly, controversial forward Tom Wilson has been at the center of much of the physical play, ever since he delivered a hit that concussed Brandon Carlo and resulted in a seven-game suspension from the NHL.
On Sunday, Wilson was once again at the center of some Bruins outrage when he delivered a hit that left Sean Kuraly down and out for several moments early in the third period. Replay showed that the outcome of the hit was entirely due to Kuraly being tripped prior to the content, thus leading to Wilson’s elbow hitting Kuraly in the back of the head. (The refs, who had a tough day, did not call the trip.)
But given Wilson’s long history of delivering dangerous, illegal hits (he’s been suspended five times), the Bruins gave him no benefit of the doubt in the moment.
Tom Wilson sends Sean Kuraly to the room.
Tinordi is sent to the box for roughing. pic.twitter.com/PjocAZIc3L
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 18, 2021
Even amid the mini-fracas — which resulted in a penalty on Bruins D-man Jared Tinordi — Wilson was visibly upset that the Bruins were responding to the hit as if it was dirty, demonstrably waving his arms in disgust at the Bruins. And after the game, Wilson was just as bothered by a question about the hit by a reporter.
“Are we serious?” Wilson said when asked to give his perspective on the Kuraly hit. “Like, I’m not even gonna talk about it. It’s a nothing play. He’s fine. That’s it.”
(Question begins at the 55-second mark.)
In this instance, Wilson is of course correct. But righteous indignation may not play particularly well with the Bruins, who clearly remain upset by Wilson’s concussive hit on Carlo in early March.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy agreed with Wilson’s assessment, too, saying it was “incidental” and that “there’s not much you can do once a guy starts tumbling down.”READ MORE: Cordero Snaps Slump, Red Sox Hold On To Beat Tigers 12-9
In this game, though, it wasn’t Wilson’s hit that inflicted the most damage on the Bruins. That honor belonged to Garnet Hathaway, who delivered a hit from behind on Tinordi, sending Tinordi face-first into the boards. Refs on the ice didn’t raise an arm for the obvious penalty — just as they didn’t call an obvious four-minute high-sticking penalty on Bruins D-man Connor Clifton in the first period — but eventually blew a whistle after Tinordi began painting the ice with his own blood.
Garnet Hathaway gets a major and a game misconduct for this hit on Jarred Tinordi: pic.twitter.com/CjyRPtIC92
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) April 18, 2021
Hathaway was issued a game misconduct for the hit, and Tinordi didn’t return.
Cassidy said that penalty was obvious, and that he took issue with a couple of uncalled hits in the first period where he felt that Capitals players left their feet to deliver contact up high. Yet at this point of the year, it was the type of game that Cassidy’s come to expect when the Bruins and Capitals meet.
“Physical with Washington again,” Cassidy said. “Looks like that’s gonna be the style of play, and like I said, our guys just have to be prepared for it and we gotta make sure we dish out our share of hits as well.”
While facing any team eight times in one season is sure to inspire an intense dislike of an opponent, the emotions have certainly been ratcheted up an extra notch when the Bruins and Capitals have met this year.
What’s more: If the season were to end with teams in their current positions, it would be the first-place Capitals getting set to face off against the fourth-place Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. It’s too soon, obviously, to pencil these two teams into any spot in the East. Washington holds just a two-point lead over the Islanders and a three-point lead over the Penguins. The Capitals could drop to third, and the Bruins could move up, or stay put. With a bad week, the Capitals could drop as low as fourth. The Bruins could also collapse and lose their playoff spot to the Rangers. There’s a lot to be determined over the final four weeks of the season.
But in terms of probability, either as a 1 vs. 4 or a 2 vs. 3 matchup, there’s a serious chance that a seven-game series awaits these two teams that clearly don’t care much for each other right now.
And as an added little bonus, the Bruins and the Capitals end the regular season with a head-to-head meeting in Washington on May 11.
Surely, both teams would prefer for that game to mean very little in terms of playoff standings. But in the event that they are locked in to playing each other in the postseason, it could be one final night to send some kind of message about what to expect in the two weeks that follow.
Whatever the case may end up being, as Cassidy noted, both teams will certainly be ready for a physical brand of hockey.MORE NEWS: Hurley: The NHL Has Embarrassed Itself With Rangers, Tom Wilson Situation