The Bruins don’t apologize for who they are, and they certainly shouldn’t express regret for how they play.
That might actually become something of a problem as their reputation gets them into trouble. Boston’s size, strength and unyielding toughness on the puck translate into intimidated opponents and broken spirits all across the NHL landscape, and it played a leading role in the Bruins capturing their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
"Somehow the Bruins happen to be the team people prefer to pick on, and we're the bruisers. We're the example to the league. We have to live with that, but one thing we won't do is change our style of play," said Claude Julien. "Our team is built that way and I think we play pretty entertaining hockey. We're a fast team, we're a skill team and we're also a physical team. We're Stanley Cup champions, so I don't see why we should have to change."
But sometimes that physicality goes over the edge. It can be tricky to find the balance between clean, honest, punishing hockey and on-ice actions construed as intentional acts to injure players. It becomes even more challenging when Brendan Shanahan and the NHL are constantly watching, judging and reviewing, and that's where the B's find themselves these days.
It appears Boston's reputation for bullying and overpowering opponents carries with it some negative side effects.
The Big Bad Bruins image resonates around the league, given their willingness to fight and stand up for each other. This is a team that performs better when times get tougher, and it's as strong a style of play as you'll find in the NHL these days.
But it’s also coloring the way the league treats their players and actions on the ice. One example is Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Another is Brad Marchand’s five-game suspension for clipping Sami Salo.
Whatever the case, the Bruins are driven by the strength and intensity of nearly every player on the roster. It's called "team tough" by the players and coaches and it's an admirable quality, one the other 29 teams struggle to match. So it doesn’t make much sense for the Bruins to mellow out or soften things up.
“No . . . nope. Not at all,” said Milan Lucic. “It’s worked for us, so we’re not changing our games at all. We’re not changing a thing. The more we talk about it and the more we think about it, the more frustrating it gets. It was just one game, we don’t have to play them again and we need to move on from this.”
The Marchand low-bridge maneuver certainly warranted a suspension from the league, and he's getting the dreaded “repeat customer” status within the NHL Department of Player Safety offices. He is almost an isolated situation unto himself, though, as the only agitator on a Bruins roster that’s largely full of honest, straightforward physical players.
Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton, among others, are viewed in most NHL corners as clean, honest players who toe the line. Marchand is the only one consistently on Shanahan’s “watch list”, and he will be observed even more closely after missing over $150,000 in game checks following his current five-game suspension. It’s a deserved distinction after the slewfoots and head shots thrown during his first two seasons that, luckily, haven’t resulted in any catastrophic injuries to his fellow players.
But Shanahan and Co. couldn’t ignore the Salo concussion or the dangerous play against the Vancouver defenseman. Marchand's gaffe cost the team when the Canucks scored a pair of power-play goals, including the game-winner, during the ensuing five-minute major.
Some feel the bad reputation is growing stronger for a Bruins team used to getting the upper hand with thumping hits and the threat of a sound thrashing if push comes to dropped glove.
The perfect example of Boston’s bad rep affecting in-game calls came in the opening few minutes Saturday afternoon. An Alex Burrows slash of Daniel Paille turned into seven Canucks surrounding Shawn Thornton and piling on the B’s enforcer in a prison yard-style attack. Burrows speared Thornton in the neck – a spot that that was still sore two days after the incident happened – before all heck broke loose, but when the ice chips settled the Bruins were on the short end of the calls: Lucic had been wrongly tossed from the game (the refs called him for leaving the bench to join the fight, but he was on the ice when it started and the NHL subsequently rescinded his game-misconduct penalty) and the Bruins found themselves trying to kill off a two-minute 5-on-3 Vancouver power play, which resulted in a Canucks goal.
Why? Because when the referees don't have a clear understanding of how things started -- and they clearly didn't in this case -- the Bruins don't get the benefit of the doubt.
"I don’t understand the thinking process behind it," said Lucic, who pointed out that the Canucks had Thornton outnumbered "6-on-1 . . . [but] we get picked out of the group and we're down two men."
Given how they're viewed around the league, it's something they may have to get used to. But Lucic says it's not going to change the way they play.
“Regardless of having a reputation or not, we’re still going to go about things the same way and we’re still going to be team-tough," he said. "That’s what makes us a special group: that we’re able to stick up for each other like we do.”
Lucic and the rest of the Bruins are going to continue to overwhelm their opponents with their brand of unrelenting physicality. It makes no sense for the B's not to continue to push right to the edge while still holding respect for their opponents and the game itself. A few suspensions or a handful of bum penalty calls aren’t going to remove the teeth and claws from the B’s, and isn’t going to lessen the ferocity of their play.
“It won’t change the way we play. We’re a physical team," Gregory Campbell said. "I don’t think Marchand’s hit has anything to do with the way we play. It’s not going to change anything. You could waste time in saying everybody has it out for the Bruins. That’s the way we play and we’re an easy target, but that’s a part of the game.
“We’ve overcome it in the past and it’s something we will overcome again. I don’t think we’re targeted. We’re a good team and usually the games we play – especially the games against good teams like Vancouver – it’s an intense game. There are a lot of emotions and we’re a better team when we play on the edge.”
It might be costly in terms of game checks lost or hot-aired criticism leveled against them, but the Bruins know the only road to Stanley Cup glory is the exact same pounding, grinding hard hockey they became renowned for in last year’s 25-game run to an NHL championship.