The Bruins Are the Worst, But It’s Good for Hockey

Another week, another controversial Boston Bruins hit. No one is surprised that a Boston Bruins player, in this case Milan Lucic, got away with a cheap-shot, that’s how the story always seems to go. As far as I’m concerned, a goalie playing the puck outside the crease should be fair game, but that’s not how it works in the rulebook, or in practice. 

Milan Lucic pretty clearly could’ve made an effort to avoid Ryan Miller, he didn’t. Instead he drove through the hit and concussed one of the world’s best goaltenders. I didn’t think the hit was altogether that heinous, but I wouldn’t have had an issue with the former Vancouver Giant being suspended for a game or two. After all, i thought the NHL was trying to do more to discourage exactly these types of unnecessary plays that can lead to concussions… 

The Bruins have earned their reputation as this bad-ass group of toughs. They’re a physical team top to bottom, they stand up for themselves (though they can get carried away on occasion) and they bring the physical game to their opponents. It’s awesome, and it works for them. They’re the Baltimore Ravens of hockey, and as far as I’m concerned it’s good for the sport to have a "heel" of this calibre as the reigning champs. I’m already looking forward to the day they get eliminated from the playoffs (hopefully in the first round), and it’s only mid-November. That’s good fun.

But here’s where we get to the rub, the narrative is quickly getting out of hand, and is beginning to feed a particular (and often misogynist) machoism that Boston sports fans (and media) lap up like thirsty kittens. This is how it’s starting to go in the minds of some: in an age where hockey is under the constant threat of "pussification", the Bruins stand alone, rebellious, willing to push the rule-book and stand up for the rough and tumble, true nature of the sport.

This romantic viewpoint, and the emerging narrative isn’t problematic, it’s a travesty. The Bruins lead the league in penalty minutes per game, which is playing with fire and it’s not as if a play like the one on Saturday are what make the Bruins a quality hockey team. But don’t tell the media that. We’ve reached the point where some would have you believe that the Bruins won game 7 because Marchand took some liberties with Daniel Sedin in the waning minutes of games four and six!

While we remember those stark images of Sedin-abuse, and many want to fit it into this "conquering champions" narrative, Marchand’s real impact in the series (and in game 7 in particular) was his skill at even-strength. It was Patrice Bergeron’s smothering defense, Marchand’s speed and craftiness, Zdeno Chara’s all around defensive awareness and Tim Thomas’ immortal goaltending performance that were critical in winning the Bruins the cup. Marchand’s post-whistle antics? A sideshow.

Here’s an example of how twisted up we’ve become when looking at that series, and the roots of the Bruins success. With the Bruins up 1-0 in game seven, Chara had a rare turnover that resulted in an Alex Burrows scoring chance in the slot with Tim Thomas out of position. Alex Burrows has a nose for the net, and stellar patience – he held the puck as Seidenberg and Thomas flailed. Finally with Tim Thomas down and out, and the net basically open, Burrows threw what could’ve been the tying goal on net. Except that puck never hit twine, instead it was blocked by Zdeno Chara, who had kneeled on the goal line to cover for his prone goaltender while Burrows picked his shot. Chara’s block was exceptional, true championship caliber stuff, and I can’t find a video for that play in particular on youtube. I can find thousands of Marchand punching Daniel Sedin in the face, set to various sound effects, but none of Chara’s great defensive play from game 7? That’s crazy. (I found the play in this larger highlight package, you can watch it at 1:03-1:10 of the video).

The Bruins "team toughness" is real, and it undeniably played a role in their Stanley Cup victory. But what really won the Bruins the cup was their ability to play hockey at a championship level. As the Bruins reputation for "belligerence" and "physical play" among other Burkean maxims takes on a life of its own, lets keep sight of that. Also, let’s enjoy rooting against them and making Brad Marchand height jokes without working ourselves up into a moral lather about every questionable hit. I suggest we leave the inane moral outrage to them.