At what point do a teams frustrations reach a boiling point?
Three-quarters into a season that has not met the expectations of, well, anyone, the Boston Bruins found themselves playing competitively once again. They’re hanging tough with the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on a pivotal road trip that could determine whether or not the club makes the playoffs.
Sixteen minutes into the third period, the Bruins top center Marc Savard takes a weak shot on goal from just inside the offensive blueline (for all intents and purposes a dump-in). From his blindside, Savard then takes a vicious hit to the head from Matt Cooke.
Number 91 lies motionless on the ice. The whistle blows, and the obligatory light-hearted scrum takes place in the far corner of the ice. Players grab the nearest opponents’ jersey and simply wait for the linesman to put his arm in between them.
The stretcher comes out, and as medical technicians work to secure the placement of the 32-year-old's neck, alternate captain Patrice Bergeron talks to Sidney Crosby, shaking his head in disagreement. And that verbal exchange is the closest thing to retaliation we will see for the rest of the game.
At this point in the game everyone has seen the replay on the scoreboard. Every player on the Mellon Arena ice knows that Matt Cooke just delivered a cheap shot to the head of one of the most important players on the Boston Bruins roster.
Eventually play resumes. The Bruins act as if the previous five minutes had been a TV timeout, and play “their game” until the clock expires. Final score: Pittsburgh 2, Boston 1.
This disturbing loss is very telling as to what the Bruins mentality very well may be at this point in the season: "Better luck next year."
Since general manager Peter Chiarelli was brought in to rebuild this franchise, the Bruins have had a simple philosophy attached to their image: Be a tough team to play against. Even this year’s marketing campaign had sold seats by announcing the “Big, and Bad Are Back”. I wish they were.
The Bruins failure to respond to adversity has been a problem all season long, from multiple blown leads and third period meltdowns, to 10-game losing streaks. But that failure has never been better exemplified than in today’s inaction in Pittsburgh.
Nov. 1, 2008. The all-brawn-no-brains Dallas Stars marched into Causeway Street expecting to push around a still undefined Boston Bruins club. After two periods of typical jack-assery from Steve Ott and Sean Avery, the Bruins defended themselves and their teammates. The melee that ensued continues to be one of the most memorable moments in the history of the “New Garden”.
Fast forward to this afternoon. Marc Savard has just been carted off to the locker room. At this point coach Claude Julien has to weigh his options: Try to tie up the game for crucial points, or make sure that opponents know that there will be consequences for injuring star players. He opted to try and stick to his system; play dump and chase hockey with the goalie pulled and hope for some luck.
There was no such luck. And with no points to show for their effort, Julien and the Bruins must reassess and regroup. What is this team’s identity? What is worth fighting for? And most importantly, when did that intensity and willingness to step in for a teammate disappear from a club that showed so much promise?
The true colors of this team's enforcers and role players may have just been shared with the world. Shawn Thornton, Steve Begin, and even Milan Lucic were nowhere to be found when a teammate was taken out maliciously. That inaction spells trouble for a Bruins team that needs to be tough to survive this last playoff push.
In a way, there’s some truth in saying that the "Big, Bad Bruins" are back. They just happen to be back in 2008.