Boston's Zdeno Chara earned a 10-minute penalty for instigating his fight with Alexei Emelin during Sunday's Bruins-Canadiens melee at TD Garden. The penalty was unjustified. Conflict between the Bruins and Canadiens was instigated 89 years ago when the NHL went international. Sunday, Chara had no other options if he wanted to look himself in the really tall mirror, keep the "C" on his chest and remind the rest of the NHL that cheap shots and stick-breaking cross-checks on a so-called "highly-skilled" type like Tyler Seguin has been granted "protected status."
And this game was not just a game. It was Bruins vs. Canadiens. And it lived up to its legacy as the Bruins went down fighting.
Every week is "Rivalry Week" these days. Non-existent, illegitimate rivalries are hyped mercilessly by TV networks and desperate ticket-sellers. Just check out anything that passes for an NBA or MLB rivalry these days. Tune in this week on Fox as the Braves and Marlins resume their "Battle for Supremacy in the Confederacy."
There's no reason to believe that passion has faded in the NHL, especially in a regular season mercifully shortened by a lockout. Not even the ghosts of John Ziegler or Clarence Campbell could have found fault with the two games the league showcased Sunday: Bruins-Canadiens and Blackhawks-Red Wings.
The intensity, ferocious fights, hard-hits, one-goal difference, and even the ire of both Claude Julien and Montreal coach Michel Therrien were on display at TD Garden in Boston's 4-3 loss Sunday night. This game served notice again that the Bruins-Canadiens are still as hostile toward each other as they've been at any time since Stan Jonathan and John Wensink beat the hell out of Pierre Bouchard and Giles Lupien, respectively, during the 1978 playoffs.
Kids, watch and enjoy, courtesy of hockeyfights.com on You Tube:
Now, there's no way we'd advocate the re-incarnation of a Jonathan or a Wensink in today's gluten-free, 6th-place Trophy, Participation Award society. The blood isn't really necessary nor desired, although a few shots to the face of anyone in Montreal rouge, blanc et bleu isn't such a bad thing. And neither is "Hating Thy Neighbor," especially when he lives in Montreal and worships at the altar of Guy Lafleur.
Where is the love? Wait until David Ortiz's next hug session with Robinson Cano or just check LeBron's Twitter feed from Saturday:
Somehow, I don't see Shawn Thornton sending man-love Tweets to Max Pacioretty. Shaking hands after a hellacious seven-game series is one thing. That's sportsmanship, which died about two generations ago.
Chara let the rest of the NHL know that Tyler Seguin is off-limits when it comes to "Hey, What Are You Looking At Me For, I Dropped My Stick?" cross-checks in the neutral zone and paid for it with 17 minutes of off-ice time. He rolled Emelin after the Russian clipped Seguin. The 17 minutes nearly matched his on-ice time (17:16).
Chara came at Emelin just slowly enough to give Emelin time to turtle and possibly soil himself. The Bruins began the third period with both Chara and Lucic in the penalty box.
The Canadiens only have one loss on the road in regulation this season. That run remains in tact. Tuukka Rask had not given up more than three goals in a game since January. Entering Sunday's game, he led league with 11 victories, along with a 1.82 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. Well, he still has 11 victories.
Pacioretty's screened shot tied the game at 3-3 at 5:31 in the third. Rask won't see that one until he checks the replay on NHL.com. Same with the game-winner. Andrew Ference was lying face down on the ice in the crease, Rask had completely lost sight of the play and Chris Kelly, who was closer to the back of the net than Rask, wasn't even looking at the puck when David Desharnais gave the Canadiens a 4-3 lead. Ugly stuff for sure.
Until that point, the Bruins has survived a 5-on-3 and several other extended disadvantages.
The Bruins and Canadiens have played more than any two teams in the history of the NHL - including the postseason. So much of what passes for rivalries these days outside the SEC, the Premier League or the NHL has been sustained despite thanks to marketing and sales, as opposed to complete disdain between the participants or their once-feuding locales.
For instance, Kobe Bryant probably hates Dwight Howard more than anyone on the Celtics or Heat these days. The most headed rivalries in the NFL (not counting Patriots-Jets, Packers-Bears or anything involving the Eagles and their mentally dysfunctional fanbase) are taking place on Twitter. See: Richard "U Mad Bro" Sherman or anything posted by Terrell Suggs.
Then there's the Red Sox and Yankees. That storied rivalry continued on Sunday in Fort Myers when the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders paid a visit to Fenway South and held the Red Sox to two runs over nine innings. Yes, this was spring training and the real Yankees were spread from Tampa to where-ever the World Baseball Classic is happening these days.
But the biggest rivals the Red Sox have these days are themselves. They've got multiple internal issues to settle before they or their fans can legitimately turn their hatred back toward the Bronx. These days, the chants of "Boston Sucks!" at Yankee Stadium are greeted by "that doesn't even begin to describe it." No doubt, the Evil Empire will never disappear, even when the Red Sox are 26 games out. Remember the glee you felt watching the Tigers emasculate A-Rod last October. But Red Sox Nation is still too wound up about John Lackey and bewildered by the likes of Stephen Drew and Big Papi's $26 million deal to get genuinely ticked off about Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes.
Back to the stuff that mattered Sunday.
The penalty on Chara and his mandated 17-minute absence left Julien's bald head glowing. He laid into the referees and NHL in general for allowing too much embellishment, targeting everyone's least-favorite Canadien, P.K. Subban.
"The frustrating part is that you end up 17 minutes in the penalty box when we should have been on the on the power-play," Julien said. "Tonight, as everybody saw, there was a lot of embellishment. This is embarrassing for our game, the embellishing. Right now, they’ve got over 100 power plays so far. It’s pretty obvious why. We’re trying to clean that out of our game. It’s got to be done soon ... The embellishment embarrasses our game. We’ve got to be better about that. It’s pretty obvious when P.K. [Subban] gets hit, he throws himself into the glass and holds his head. You know what? We start calling those things for embellishment, maybe teams stop doing it. Until we take charge that, it’s going to be an issue.”
And Gary Bettman thought we hated him during the lockout?
Lucic was sidelined after winning his 2012 rematch with Brandon Prust with a convincing TKO late in the second period. The absence of Boston's two biggest physical threats allowed the Canadiens to go small and fast, arguably wore out the Bruins and led to Montreal's two quick goals at the start of the period.
One might say this was done by design and the Canadiens pulled one over on Claude and the boys.
That assessment would probably be correct. The Canadiens have always played this way against the Bruins. It's cross-generational. It was on display 35 years ago and again during the 2011 playoffs. Except during that miraculous series, Nathan Horton's OT and double-OT goals left the Habs crying in their Molson.
But Chara had no choice here. There's no doubt the cross-check on Seguin, who remains the future marquee star of this franchise, cried out for a timely and reasonable response. (Note: We said marquee star. Doubt if State Run Media wants to see Brad Marchand's pretty face as a key to winning over the 18-34 female demographic.)
Chara's response was hardly out of the Stan Jonathan School of Unadulterated Thuggery. It was tempered and even done in a clean way. Julien said after the game he had no problem with what his captain did. And why should he?
In a technical sense, Chara instigated the fight. He threw the first punch (and the second, third, etc...) and went out of his way to deliver the initial blows. But like any investment, it often takes money to make money.
In this case, it cost the Bruins two points to make a point: "Don't screw with No. 19."
Whether you're a rival or not.
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