On Saturday, the Boston Bruins grabbed back the regular season Atlantic Division throne from the 2013 Division champs and their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, with a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals in Washington. It was another dominant performance by a team that on Thursday shut out the defending Stanley Cup Champions with a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Boston. The Bruins have now gained at least a point in 15 straight road games and seemingly on a Blues Brothers “Mission from God” like path to either Chicago for a Stanley Cup finals rematch or to whatever Western Conference city the finals visits. It’s really hard to find anything (other than a sudden injury bug) or any team that could prevent the Bruins from making their third Stanley Cup finals appearance in five seasons right now. In fact, the only thing that could prevent this Bruins squad from reaching the finals may just be themselves.
In their 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens on Monday, the Bruins played their arch-rivals with their skill, relentless forecheck, and the execution of coach Claude Julien‘s system that has made them a perennial Cup contender. But despite ruling the game in the X’s and O’s department, the Bruins found themselves down 1-0 late and had to get a late goal from Patrice Bergeron to force overtime and eventually a shootout. The Canadiens prevailed with Alex Galchenyuk scoring the lone goal of the shootout and while it wasn’t exactly a devastating loss in the standings with the Bruins still gaining a point to inch closer to their first President’s Trophy since the 1989-90 season, it was another indication of what can happen when you run into a hot goalie like Peter Budaj who made 28 saves in this game but more so what can happen if a team can somehow distract the Bruins from their structured and disciplined system. The refereeing in the game last Monday was most definitely horrendous but it was both ways and while the Bruins still earned a point they seemed to let that and the ability of the Canadiens to aggravate them be a thorn in their side. The latter seems to do that more often than not over the last two seasons as the Bruins have won just two of their last eight tilts with their division rivals, despite being a far more superior team.
A prime example of the Canadiens once again crawling under the skin of the Bruins was their reaction to a clean hip check by Alexei Emelin early in the game. Within seconds of Emelin upending Lucic, the Habs defenseman was under siege from the Bruins with captain Zdeno Chara horse collaring Emelin to the ice but holding up on what could’ve been a lethal beatdown since Emelin has a metal plate in his skull from a previous head injury. Yes, it is frustrating and somewhat cowardly that a player like Emelin who can’t fight because of such a condition constantly lays borderline hits on opposing players and then turtles when challenged to a fight. But at the same time some of these hits are clean and within the parameters of the rules. Unfortunately in today’s game, clean hits must be punished and that was the case here. This asinine unwritten rule that Murph’s Musings would like to see disappear from the NHL can put the retaliatory player or team in the sin-bin and rattle them off their game. That seemed to be the case throughout this game and so many times before when Boston plays the hated Canadiens.
The frustration the Habs caused also boiled over after the game when the Bruins did some whining and shuffling of facts.
“Whether it’s fair or legal or whatever you want to call it, if he wasn’t scared, he’d want to stand up and hit me and not go after my knees,” Lucic said to the media in a post game scrum. “It just shows how big of a chicken he is that he has to go down like that to take me down. It shows what kind of player he is. On my end, you know you need to keep your guard up at all times.”
Lucic also denied spearing Emelin in the third period despite every video clip saying otherwise. Really Milan? So it’s OK when your teammates do worse but not when it’s done to you? Or when the guilty player in that clip leaves you or your teammates to clean up his dirty work as Emelin does? Is he a “chicken” too?
I covered the core of this current Bruins squad since the beginning of Claude Julien’s tenure there and I can tell you that they are a collective solid and class act and the organization has defined class with their reactions to two recent tragedies in Boston. But for some reason when they play the Canadiens and Canucks since 2011, they veer away from that both on and off the ice and it affects their game as they are now 6-6-2 against Montreal since the classic seven-game series with the Habs in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals and 1-2 against the Canucks since winning the 2011 Stanley Cup in Vancouver. Rivalries are great for the fans and media and can be great for players too but lately, rivalries seem to be the Bruins kryptonite and while they very likely won’t face the Canucks in the playoffs they could see the Canadiens again. Julien and his players were right when they said after their latest loss to the Habs that the playoffs are a different animal but so are Bruins-Canadiens games and right now that possible playoff match-up may be the only thing that can derail the Bruins’ road to the Cup.