The Bruins found their rugged, rough-and-tumble, tough-to-play-against team personality amid a fight-filled grudge match with Sean Avery and the Dallas Stars at the Garden way back on Nov. 1.
There were musclebound sentences and breathy paragraphs devoted to the return of the Big, Bad Bruins, and tributes were penned to a squad that had finally once again captured the imagination of a dormant hockey franchise’s loyal followers.
Like any real fiery pique of puck passion, however, the emotion and tenacity proved difficult to maintain at its highest levels throughout the ebb and flow of a long season. The Black and Gold might have lost their way momentarily in the middle of the grinding 82-game seasonal gauntlet, but the Big, Bad B’s clearly regained their groove by both shedding the gloves and lighting the lamp in a 6-0 thrashing of the Anaheim Ducks at the Garden Thursday night.
The sweet combination of brawling and Bruins is the holy hockey alliance that baptized this particular team before a frenzied Boston hockey crowd back on that night in November. It should also be the galvanizing force that allows the Bruins to finish out the schedule’s final 20 games with the thunderous force of a big “Looch” body check.
The skilled and shifty forwards were flying up the frozen sheet with a quick, fastbreak-style outlet and transition game reminiscent of the first four months of the season. The forwards, in turn, enjoyed engaged and aggressive play from the defenseman hopping up into the play with the kind of symbiotic support that marked the first few months of the season.
Matt Hunwick showed the telltale controlled, timely aggression when he kicked it into turbo and beat Mike Brown to a loose puck in the offensive zone and rifled a high wrist shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere to give Boston their first score. The goal kicked off a two point night for Hunwick in his first game back after a quick one-game refresher with the Providence Bruins — a move made necessary when the young defenseman had suited up only three times since late January.
It was just another of example of things going right again for the Spoked B after enduring a period where they simply didn’t work hard enough for the bounces. After a sluggish few weeks, the Bruins renewed their commitment to jumping in front of the net and working the oft-dangerous corners for loose pucks, and again the fists were flying when teams began taking too many physical liberties on the ice.
“We’re not there yet (completely) where we want to be, but we’re certainly moving in the right direction,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “We’ve scored 12 goals in the last couple of games, and I think, overall, our game has started to come back. But we need to be hard on ourselves in order to have our game where we want it to be — and not get satisfied.
“We talked about putting some emotion in our game when we were sliding a little bit,” he added. “We weren’t finishing our checks, we didn’t play with the same kind of emotion and we obviously weren’t scoring much. I think putting some emotion in the game, and putting some jam and grit into it allowed us to score some goals as well. Both are great for our team right now.”
It might have come at a short term price as both Milan Lucic and Marc Savard — two of the three players that dropped the gloves in the donnybrook-filled victory — didn’t return after the second-period fisticuffs with what Julien described as “upper body injuries.” But it was a jolting reminder to the Ducks players, the 17,565 in attendance and to, yes, even the assembled media contingent that the current Bruins team — with or without the benefit of a deadline deal — is going to be a handful to play against as long as they’re properly motivated and playing with furious passion and gusto.
“We have to go back to the game we played before. If you’re up in a game after one or two periods then you’ve got to go out there and show a killer instinct. Don’t sit back,” said Bruins center David Krejci, who notched an assist and a +3 on the night and had himself a great hockey game. “That’s our team. That’s how we play and who we are. We’re a tough team to play against.”
Savard hadn’t dropped the gloves or thrown a punch in anger since that fateful game when Avery crunched Lucic from behind, and it’s no coincidence that the playmaking center again hopped into the fray in another character building win for B’s. Shawn Thornton started things off with Anaheim tough guy George Parros early in the second period, and Lucic followed with a fists of rage act against Ducks forward Mike Brown after getting jumped by half the Anaheim team.
Savard and Scott Niedermayer followed with a rare scuffle for each of them — a go-round that was actually called roughing on both players — and Thornton was left to wonder what would have happened had the B’s truly indulged their nasty side and released the “monster from the cage.”
“We’ve got a tough team here obviously,” Thornton said. “You look around the room and we’re not going to get pushed around here by anybody. We didn’t get the monster, [Zdeno Chara] wasn’t even involved. We didn’t let him out of the cage. Guys stand up for each other. We have a close locker room and we’ll go to bat for each other. So, that’s not ever going to change.”
Injury Ward: Both Lucic and Savard tangled with Ducks players in second-period fights, and then didn’t return to the ice again following their respective scraps. Julien termed both “upper body injuries” that will be evaluated on Friday.
Player of the Game: Michael Ryder was greatly missed when he was out of the lineup with multiple facial fractures, and has totaled 3 goals and 2 assists in two games since returning to the Bruins lineup. Ryder’s ability to finish around the net and his physical style are two things that the B’s badly need from him on a nightly basis. Last night he delivered. Tim Thomas earns a nod as well for stopping 35 shots en route to the shutout, including a handful of stunning stops in the first 35 minutes of the game.
Goat Horns: Look across the board at all of Anaheim’s best players, including Giguere. With the Ducks on the outside of the playoff picture, they all played horribly in an important game. For a team with so much talent and Stanley Cup experience, they looked completely lost Thursday night.
Turning Point: Steve Montador and Parros each took penalties in the closing minutes of the second period, and both Ryder and Chuck Kobasew cashed in on power play goals that pushed the game out of reach. The Ducks seemed to lose their composure a bit following the Looch’s Incredible Hulk act in the second period — a predictable reaction after getting jumped by a pair of Ducks skaters in front of Anaheim’s net.