NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley joined the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning for his weekly appearance, this time to discuss the aggressive and often dirty play seen in the NHL playoffs, as well as the state of the Bruins now three games into their series against the Capitals.
After two closely contested games in Boston, which the teams split, the Bruins were able to rebound from a Game 2 double-overtime loss for a win on the road in Game 3. For Brickley, the difference was simply that the Bruins came out harder and more aggressive than they had in the first two contests of the series.
"I think big picture is the fact that they played harder," Brickley said. "They competed harder and they won more battles.
"They were just fully engaged emotionally, mentally and physically. When they play that way, they are the superior team."
The series also took another important and decisive shift in Game 3 when the Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom cross-checked Rich Peverly at the end of the game, a hit that landed him a one-game suspension. Backstrom's absence could prove to be a very costly one in Game 4, according to Brickley.
"[It's] very significant," Brickley said. "Some people refer to him as the engine as far as their offense is concerned. It certainly gives them balance.
"It’s a significant loss. They have enough that they’ll give the Bruins a hard time, but without him their chances of winning go down dramatically."
Backstrom's hit, however, has been far from an isolated incident thus far in the playoffs, as games have been defined by big hits and the suspensions that have come about from them. While Capitals coach Dale Hunter defended Backstrom after the game, Brickley said that it's hard to rush to the defense of these players making these hits.
"If you look across the National Hockey League right now [with] what’s going on in the playoffs and the number of suspensions and how nasty it is, it’s hard to defend anything that some of these players are doing," Brickley said. "I think it’s a coach just trying to defend his player, hoping to get that penalty rescinded at the end of the game because Backstrom is a critical piece of his offense. Without him, they are not as good of a team and that puts them in a difficult position."
Taking a series of factors into consideration, most notably the way that the Bruins came out in Game 3 and Backstrom's suspension, Brickley said that the series has shifted decidedly in the Bruins' favor.
"The fact that the Bruins played the way that they wanted to play, not completely, but they looked more like the Boston Bruins and the style of the Boston Bruins want to play," Brickley said. "I think they raised their hate level for this team, which I think is a good thing.
"The absence of Backstrom, they delved into the young rookie goaltender’s mind, I think that all favors Boston. If Boston comes out, as I expect, to impose their will, I would expect them to win both games in Washington."
Following are more highlights from the conversation.
On what NHL officials have to think of the playoffs so far: "I don’t think they like it. I think they love that there’s a lot of one-goal games, there’s a lot of overtime, there’s a lot of parity, lower seeds can beat the higher seeds. I think they love all of that. I just think the nastiness … they’re looking for consistency, they’re looking for responsibility and some accountability from the players. If they start to get that the deeper they get into the playoffs, then the hockey becomes more of the focus than all of this nastiness that we’re watching. Brendan Shanahan has a difficult job. He’s basically the voice of authority that has to mete out all of the discipline and that is a challenging position to be in. He’s trying to do it right, but you’re never going to be in the right side of that argument in that kind of position of authority."
On whether the Capitals will channel the aggressiveness of other playoff teams: "I don’t think it’s in their makeup, I really don’t. One or two players, perhaps, but they want to play, I believe, the right way, which is the way the Bruins play. They want to man up, they want to be physical, they want to stay within the rules, they want to play playoff-style hockey, which is rough and tumble. You’ve got to get some penalties along the way, but I don’t think they want to be or have the reputation that they’re going to leave their feet to make hits, they’re going to blindside people, they’re going to run people from behind. It’s not in their makeup and it’s not in the Bruins' makeup."
On whether the crying gesture from Karl Alzner will motivate the Bruins the same way Alex Burrows' biting did in the Stanley Cup finals last year: "I don’t know if it’s on par with that, but it certainly gets players’ attention. The Bruins aren’t going to make a big deal out of it publicly, but they’re taking numbers for sure."
On Rafi Torres' hit on Marian Hossa in the Coyotes-Blackhawks series: "I think he’s a predator by nature. I can’t believe this guy hasn’t been suspended more times when I watch this guy play. The fact that the intent is to hurt, that he left his feet, I would expect a lengthy suspension because he’s a repeat offender."