BOSTON – Five members of the Bruins’ defense corps started a new club tonight in the club’s 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo.
With the exception of rookie Matt Bartkowski, every Boston blueliner picked up at least one minor penalty tonight.
When you mix in three more minors called on forwards, the Sabres enjoyed seven power plays and 8:29 of man-advantage time, which produced two extra-man goals including Tim Connolly’s game-tying score with 5:05 elapsed in the third period.
If tonight was any indication and the outrage over Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty and the league’s subsequent decision not to suspend the Boston captain is as widespread as I believe, the Bruins might want to get used to being on the penalty kill.
There was obviously some embellishment on the part of the Sabres tonight. Steve Montador rolled 15 feet into the boards to draw a boarding call, and Andrej Sekera looked like he was on a slip-and-slide after Brad Marchand got his stick caught in the Buffalo defenseman’s skates. But it takes two referees to fall for the flopping and also make some other borderline calls in the opponents’ favor, whether it was Dennis Seidenberg’s love-tap crosscheck or Johnny Boychuk’s hook later on.
The Bruins have been at or near the bottom of the league in times shorthanded all season. But with the reputation they’re building up, that might change. Never mind the physical play of Chara, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell. Never mind the agitating of Brad Marchand and the open-ice body blows of Johnny Boychuk. With longtime pacifist Nathan Horton collecting five fighting majors over two thirds of a season, there’s an obvious extra angry edge to this Bruins club. Previous fight-filled performances against Montreal and Dallas seemed like anomalies over the course of a long season. But with three more fighting majors tonight, the Bruins as a team are third in the league in that department.
The way game is played today and the way the rules are enforced, you can’t call them the “Big, Bad Bruins.” That doesn’t mean they can’t find themselves in some deep trouble with the official just based on that reputation. Marchand, who earlier this week called the Canadiens “divers,” wasn’t taking the bait to criticize his phantom tripping call. However, he was hoping that the future would hold more fair treatment of his team.
“They might be [calling Bruins games tighter], I don’t know. They shouldn’t be,” he said. “We play a certain way. We play hard, we play tough and maybe they’re a little wise against us because we do play a lot more physical than a lot of teams. But that shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t be getting more penalized than anybody else because we play more physical.”
It’s the Bruins style to up the roughhousing level. And it works. The Bruins’ best performances are ones where they’re banging bodies into the board as well as pucks into the net. This might just be a case of Boston needing to fine-tune its penalty kill, which fell into the bottom half of the league rankings weeks ago and hasn’t recovered. Or it could just be a matter of toeing the line better between physical play and infractions.
As Tim Thomas said of tonight’s performance: “After the first couple, you realize that they’re going to call them tight, at least against us. So you’ve got to be smarter than that, and not do borderline plays that can get you those calls.”
We’ll see if the Bruins can heed Thomas’ advice going forward. The target on Chara’s back has certainly doubled since the Pacioretty play, and Lucic seems to be involved in some tiff or another every night. Teams are going to try to goad the Bruins into fisticuffs and penalties at every turn. In particular, the playoffs could be a difficult time to navigate through if Boston’s getting sidetracked by awkward calls, supplemental discipline and extracurricular activities.
The Bruins have found their identity. Now they have to figure out a way to fit it into the way the league wants teams to play.