Last night, on a whim, I went to my first Bruins game in years with one of my best friends to see the B’s play the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a grind of a game that ended in dramatic fashion with a game tying goal from David Krejci with a minute and a half to play, and a game winning goal from captain Zdeno Chara with 13 seconds in regulation. Tuukka Rask had a great game in net, even if the second goal he allowed was on the soft side, but he saw a lot more shots from the Penguins than the Bruins put on Marc-Andre Fleury. It was certainly a demoralizing loss for the Pens, but does that really make it a feel-good win for the B’s?
These are two teams that don’t like each other, and it showed from the beginning. On the very first shift of the game, Pittsburgh defenseman and Boston College alum Brooks Orpik knocked down Bruins forward Loui Eriksson on and Loui was slow to get up. Concussion. His second concussion since being traded to Boston over the summer in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas. Things didn’t end there. Later in the first period, Penguins forward James Neal hit a sprawling Brad Marchand in the head with his knee and skated off for a line change hit-and-run style. Luckily, Marchy was okay and played the rest of the game, but that’s the type of thing that can end careers.
James Neal wasn’t the only one to cross the line last night, though. In the moments following Neal’s kneeing of Marchand, there was a scrum bring broken up by the officials that included Brooks Orpik. Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, who had been trying to get Orpik to drop the gloves and answer for his hit on Eriksson jumped in, sucker punched Orpik and took him down. The game was halted for about ten minutes (but felt much longer than that in the arena as no replays or explanations were being given for what had unfolded) as the Bruins’ medical team came out to take Orpik out on a stretcher. Neal received two minutes for kneeing Marchand while Thornton received a match penalty for his attack of Orpik.
While Thornton’s actions were dirty and irresponsible, I can see where he was coming from. As the team’s enforcer, he is tasked with being the tough guy who stands up for his teammates. He’s usually all about adhering to the “code” that NHL fighters abide by, but he crossed the line last night. He saw Johnny Boychuk carted off the ice on a stretcher after a borderline hit by Max Pacioretty in Montreal on Thursday night, and earlier in that period he saw skilled forwards Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand knocked around. His job is to protect his teammates, and the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins had been taking liberties with his teammates left and right. I can understand his frustration in the situation where the guy who just put Marchand’s career in jeopardy skated off right away, and the guy who hit Loui is refusing to answer for his actions in a fight. He should have waited to challenge Orpik in a more logical point in the flow of the game, but when you’re angry and frustrated in the heat of the moment as Thornton was, logic gets thrown out the window. Thornton seemed genuinely remorseful and broken up about the incident after the game when he spoke to the media. He’s a good guy and a good Bruin, but he really messed up last night, and he knows it.
The events of the first period really put a dark cloud over an otherwise exciting game. This game provided ammunition for the anti-fighting faction of hockey fans, and paints the Bruins in a bad light, even though both teams were involved in foul play. I don’t envy Brendan Shanahan for having to be the one to sort this mess out at the league office. With Thornton likely to be suspended, and Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly (who fractured his right fibula in the second period of last night’s game) all injured, we’re going to see a lot of young players get called up from Providence to fill in with the big club. A win is a win, and it was a thrilling one at that, but there is a tough road ahead for the Bruins. For me it was great to be back in the TD Garden, and a great day where I got to catch up with a lot of great people, but the game itself is bittersweet despite the amazing finish. I love the Bruins and I love hockey, but I wish things went a little differently last night.