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By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON – It’s going to be difficult for the Bruins to turn away from the brutish identity they’ve carved out for themselves.
But then again, why should they?
For the second time in three games the Bruins' mean streak set the tone, and they came away with a needed, emotional 8-6 victory over the hated Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.
The B’s and Habs racked up 187 penalty minutes in a game played for Northeast Division supremacy with less than 30 games to go in the regular season, and at one point six B’s players and five Canadiens were jammed into the penalty box.
The Bruins lead the NHL with 55 fighting majors this season in 54 games, and seem to have achieved their season-opening directive of becoming the biggest, baddest hockey team on the block. It's games like Wednesday night that make questions about Boston's toughness seem almost laughable.
Less than a week after handing the Dallas Stars a spanking -- on and off the scoreboard -- the Bruins have found the formula they need to have success against even the best of teams. Sprinkle in plenty of emotion, add a resurgence of your top line that produced 3 goals, 8 assist and a plus-15 during the game, and mix in a liberal amount of butt-kicking on the ice.
Ironically enough, perhaps Montreal goalie Carey Price said it best after letting in eight goals just weeks after representing Montreal in the NHL All-Star game.
“It was just old-time hockey, really, going end end-to-end and scrapping it out,” said Price.
The message was sent loud and clear by the Bruins: the division is ours and we’re pretty sick of losing to the Blue, Blanc and Rouge this season. The Bruins made their statement by scoring eight goals against the Habs and beating down them physically and spiritually at the end of 60 minutes of schoolyard bullying.
It was the only way for the gritty, physical Bruins to slow down the fleet, skilled Canadiens, and if it reminded everyone in the sellout crowd at TD Garden of the Big Bad Bruins -- well, then all the better.
“[The effort] was huge -- especially when they’re a few points behind us [in the standings]. We really wanted to push them down and have that game in hand,” said Brad Marchand. “So especially after losing last game there when we were up 2-0, we really wanted to make a statement and show them that we mean business. We’re going to get on a roll here and not give them any chance to catch us.”
The victory allowed the Bruins to settle some scores: Nathan Horton spent the latter half of the game chasing after P.K. Subban and trying to force him to pay for his transgressions against Marchand; Zdeno Chara opted for the popular tackle-and-face-wash combo against overtime celebration enthusiast Max Pacioretty when the line-brawl emerged in the second period, and even Price and Tim Thomas grappled at center ice when things bubbled over in the middle period.
But it also showed a team that’s undeniably united after standing up for each other, and physically intimidating quality opponents in Dallas and Montreal while putting to bed any questions about team harmony. The debate about public disagreements between Andrew Ference and Daniel Paille seem trivial and stupid when the hockey team comes out with such a resounding effort.
Any curiosity about a B’s dressing room that’s never even shown a hint of a problem this season should be considered officially answered with an exclamation point -- and perhaps a roundhouse right to the face.
“We are going to stand up for one another. We are going to stand up to anyone and we want to be team-tough,” said Milan Lucic. “I think that is what we showed against Dallas and that is what we showed tonight.”
More than one B’s player nodded repeatedly when asked if games like Wednesday night’s Bruins/Canadiens grudge match were as much fun to play in as they were to watch because, to date, that stands as the best NHL regular-season game this year.
“It’s a lot of fun to be in these games. Such a great team, great players, and it’s a lot of fun coming to the rink,” said Horton. “Playing with these guys, not only are they unbelievable on the ice, but they’re great off the ice. It truly is like a family and everyone loves each other.”
It’s obvious the Bruins can’t bring Wednesday’s intensity every night. This was a unique “four-point night” against the Canadiens, who are closest to them in the divisional standings.
But the Bruins have tapped into exactly what they’re capable of when the emotional, physical and spiritual commitment is present – and it shows them what they’re capable of when they’re unafraid to embrace their Big Bad Bruin origins. It's interesting that two real "tipping point" games this season have come against Montreal. The first was the overtime loss at the Bell Centre in which Boston blew a two-goal lead late in the third period; the B's regrouped from that disaster and have gone 10-4 in the 14 games since then.
The B's then took it one step further on Wednesday night, and found a way to beat the hated Habs this season after going 0-2-1 against Montreal in three games heading into fight night at TD Garden.
"[It was] a good win for us. We needed that, and we went out and got it,” said coach Claude Julien. “You know whatever happened, happened and I guess there is a rivalry that exists between these two teams and it’s still there. So, we came out and played our game.”
The Bruins have 28 games remaining in the season and they’ve uncovered the team identity they’ve searched all season for. That should be a scary proposition for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Joe Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs