The Incredible Hulk’s TV alter ego David Banner was always wary of saying that “you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.” Bruins fans, on the other hand, might have the opposite feeling about their club.
Claude Julien might just have stumbled across the secret formula for success this season with the Bruins. Whether it’s completely making up bulletin board material 82 times a year, convincing the B’s players that Sean Avery collects paychecks for each of the 29 other NHL teams or simply pretending that each new team they play ended their season in Game 7 last spring, the Bruins are simply better when they’re peeved.
A little bit of rage goes a long way with the Black and Gold, and the team wasn’t trying to hide it before Saturday night’s rematch. Many players talked about seeking some measure of revenge for Carolina sending them to the golf courses far too early last spring. That debt is now one step closer to being paid.
The Bruins effectively bottled up the bitterness from last year’s disappointing playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, and authored a trademark Big Bad Bruins beat down on the Canes, 7-2, at TD Banknorth Garden. (Recap.)
Now, it seems that the Canadiens can move over. There’s always room for more blood-boiling enmity among hockey teams, and the Hurricanes have stepped to the front of Boston’s hit list. Both the Canes and Bruins were among the least penalized teams in the NHL last season, but that didn’t stop them from rolling around in the mud a bit.
“In our minds we wanted to redeem ourselves from that scenario,” said Marc Savard when queried about last season’s playoff exit as motivating factor. “We thought we were a better team and we wanted to prove it tonight.
“I know as a team we made some changes and we will improve on that. I think we did that tonight. We are still a great hockey club and obviously we’re going to be ready the next time we play them.”
Saturday night is apparently all right for fighting, and it’s just as suitable for scoring.
Thirteen different Bruins players cracked the score sheet, and each one of Boston’s seven goals was scored by a different skater. All four lines saw at least one forward score, and a pair of defensemen jumped into the act.
In the first period, the anger and redemptive effort came through in a relentless Bruins forecheck that drew Carolina penalties and befuddled a Hurricanes corps of defensement that didn’t look quite ready for prime time. It was almost as if the Bruins completely reversed the tables on Carolina from last season, when a suffocating Hurricanes forecheck swamped an undermanned B’s defenseman group. That effort carried over into dozens of pucks fired through a constant flow of bodies bearing down on Canes goalie Cam Ward, making his short-lived appearance miserable.
Ward was yanked after Boston’s first goal of the second period, becoming the B’s first goalie victim of the young season after they forced 13 goalie changes through last year’s regular season.
The constant pressure drew the first penalty of the game, and – shortly thereafter – the first goal of many to come. Joe Corvo hauled down Milan Lucic in front of the net while battling for position, and the Black-and-Gold power play immediately atoned for their 0-for-5 night against the Capitals.
Though it was a power-play score, Boston’s first goal was all about second efforts and winning battles. Derek Morris leveled a blast from the right point that Ward stopped, and Michael Ryder muscled Niclas Wallin off the loose rebound. Ryder forced a shot through Wallin, and Ward bounced a rebound right to Marc Savard at the doorstep.
The wide open net turned into a power play strike for Savard, and the Bruins were off and running with their revenge plot.
Power play goal No. 2 was another rebound from a Zdeno Chara point blast with Marco Sturm screening in front of the goaltender. Michael Ryder rushed toward the puck in the slot with a wind-up one-timer, and quickly made it 2-0.
The B’s kept on piling it on with a well-executed line change. Steve Begin carried the puck through the neutral zone with speed, and fed Blake Wheeler for a goal-scoring poke that ricocheted off his skate.
Goals by Sturm, Shawn Thornton, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick followed, and the Bruins all had the same basic modus operandi with the rout on.
“Everything was created from our guys driving to the goal,” said Morris. “’Wheels’ goal, he drove to the net and got a stick on it. Whether it’s lucky or not, you get those from working hard.”
The hard work and unrelenting pressure kept piling up man advantage opportunities, and – as a result – power play strikes for the Bruins.
Whether it was more anger harbored toward Carolina after last year’s contentious defeat or shame after playing like they were standing still against the Caps, Saturday’s matchup against Carolina effectively unleashed the bear from the cage.
There were fights that followed, including a bloody massacre when Milan Lucic clubbed Jay Harrison with a series of punishing rights – one he landed on Harrison after the Canes forward had already staggered to his knees. For Big Looch, that’s two fights and two bloody foreheads after catching Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil with a power punch above his right eye during the preseason.
A team-wide donnybrook touched off when old friend Andrew Alberts cross-checked Sturm into the boards immediately following the Lucic brawl.
It was mere coincidence that the Alberts/Sturm incident took place in nearly the exact same corner where Avery crunched Lucic from behind last season, and touched off a memorable brouhaha between the Stars and Bruins that set Boston on its way.
Saturday night’s fights weren’t about last season’s playoffs. They were about a hockey team that was routed and embarrassed in its opener fighting for the return of some respect in the second game of the season.
Consider it a message sent, and circle the next Bruins/Hurricanes game on Jan. 24 – a potential Sunday afternoon NBC game – as a definite game of interest because these B’s seem to have a whole season of payback in mind.
With a thoroughly entertaining “old-time hockey game” in the book at the Garden, here are three things we learned during last night’s stroke of revenge for the Bruins.
THE POWER PLAY IS FINALLY LIVING UP TO ITS NAME
The Bruins featured a pop-gun power play against the Capitals opening night, but made some much-needed adjustments while reaping the benefits of four power-play strikes against the Hurricanes. The B’s PP squad went 4-for-8 in the win, and now sits at 4-for-13 on the young season.
The B’s did a couple of things better to make their PP turnaround a reality. They 1) put more shots on net regardless of location or timing and 2) made certain there was plenty of traffic in front of the net harassing Cam Ward into mistakes and challenging a Carolina defenseman unit that’s – in the words of Joe Namath – struggaling. The slight changes included prying Savard off the half-wall and getting the playmaking center closer to the net when opportunity knocked during Boston’s first power play tally.
Nearly every power play goal scored by Boston started with a heavy blast from the point by Zdeno Chara, Derek Morris or Dennis Wideman, and that’s a tremendous sign.
“[The power play] gave us the momentum that we needed,” said Julien. “I think the key to it is that we worked hard and won our battles. More than anything else we threw pucks at the net and guys were pouncing on the loose pucks.”
STEVE BEGIN HAS BEEN A PERFECT FIT ON THE BRUINS
Derek Morris wants you to know that former Montreal Canadiens forward Steve Begin is one of the hardest workers on the team. Savard said that the French-Canadian spark plug could give Chara a run for his money in the physical fitness department, and Morris put it a lot more succinctly.
Just don’t read below until after digesting that morning muffin and coffee.
“He works until he pukes. Seriously,” said Morris of Begin, who notched a pair of assists in Saturday’s win and shares the team point lead (3) with Savard. “[Begin] plays his heart out. He comes every single night and he’s going to play like that. He’s basically the first guy into every scrum and the last guy out
“He plays with a lot of heart, he always has. He came into Calgary and they used to just tell him if that puck is on your stick for more than a second, you better get rid of it and go get it. He’s turned himself into a real nice player, and he’s calmer with the puck.”
Begin only played 11:40 of the game’s full 60 minutes, but made every last second on the ice count. He assisted on a pair of goals by creating scoring opportunities through a little bit of speed and a lot of tenacity. He killed penalties kamikaze-style by simply crashing into puck-carriers in the offensive end. He leveled Aaron Ward behind the Carolina net with a crunching body blow that knocked the former B’s defenseman off his skates.
The hard-hitting center wasn’t ready to razz Savard about his three gaudy assists in two short games, but the free-agent signee was happy to be one of five multi-point scorers on the night for Boston.
“Yeah, I’m pretty exited,” said Begin. “Plus we got the win tonight. So I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.”
So excited, in fact, that Begin might not even work himself into a sick frenzy on Sunday afternoon.
ERIC STAAL IS AN OLD-TIME HOCKEY PLAYER
The Hurricanes superstar is already en elite player, and he was coming off a 27-minute performance against the Philadelphia Flyers in Friday night’s shutout loss for Carolina. Staal was back out there carrying his team against the Bruins Saturday night, but the bright young hockey light nearly saw his night end prematurely when he took a speeding puck off the side of his head. Staal was camped out in front of the Boston net in his customary position, and Matt Cullen ripped a blast from the right face-off dot that caught the Carolina forward in his helmet’s right ear hole.
The impact ripped Staal’s face open and it took 25 stitches to close up, but the Canes winger was back out in a 6-1 hockey game to start the third period. No shock given that he’s an honest-to-goodness hockey player, but the puck gods certainly were smiling on Staal’s toughness. Staal was awarded with Carolina’s final goal of the night – an unassisted job off an errant Dennis Wideman pass – with only 2:41 gone into the third period.
It was certainly appropriate warrior activity for what Carolina coach Paul Maurice deemed a “good, old-time hockey game” between newly minted NHL enemies following last year’s seven-game playoff battle.