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Poor decisions prove very costly

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 8, 2012
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The Bruins played right into the sizzling-hot hands of the Canucks yesterday, giving the NHL’s best power-play team an embarrassment of riches (11 power plays) to work with, and they most likely will lose Brad Marchand to a suspension for his menacing clipping penalty on Sami Salo late in the second period.

Marchand’s misguided hit, which drew a five-minute major and a game misconduct, translated into a pair of power-play strikes and essentially gift-wrapped a 4-3 victory at TD Garden for last year’s Stanley Cup co-finalist.

Not that the January Cup means a heck of a lot in the grand scheme of an 82-game regular season, but it likely helped piece together a Vancouver ego that was smashed to smithereens by the Bruins over seven games last June.

It was one entertaining afternoon, full of last June’s lingering back story. It was topped to the brim with fights, including one protracted big-boy battle between Nathan Horton and the Canucks’ Dale Weise early in the first period.

If you’re still engaged in the game for its Neanderthal underbelly of fighting, then yesterday was for you, although the truth behind much of the mayhem was that referees Don VanMassenhoven and Dan O’Rourke did a poor job sorting out what was legal and illegal, clean and dirty, consequential and inconsequential.

Refereeing is a tough job, but two refs work each game, and those guys in stripes had a bad day at the office.

The takeaway from Boston’s side was discipline, or the lack of it. Just as the skilled Canucks have the NHL’s gold standard of a power play, the wide-bodied, roll-four-lines Bruins rule the league at even strength. If they keep their heads and stay on task, they erase teams with ease these days. Witness: a 6-1 win at New Jersey Wednesday and a 9-0 shellacking of the AHL/NHL Flames Thursday at the Garden.

“They did the right things,’’ said coach Claude Julien, crediting the team from British Columbia, “and we didn’t do enough to win the hockey game. Let’s be man enough to admit it and move on.’’

Good on Julien, although he went a little light on Marchand, whose penalty helped turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 deficit. The Canucks connected twice on the five-minute power play awarded when Marchand took aim at Salo and dropped him with his ugly clip along the boards.

Julien skated around the issue of Marchand facing more discipline, likely in part because the coach earlier lost Milan Lucic for the afternoon on a game misconduct for leaving the bench to join an altercation.

Based on video replay, Lucic did not leave the bench illegally and should have remained in the game. Blown call by the refs. More than two hours after the game, the league officially exonerated Lucic, a good thing for his wallet, because a 10-game suspension would have cost him $488,000 in pay. But un-tweeting the referees’ whistle did not get the big winger back in the game.

Marchand, though, got everything he deserved when he was tossed, and he is probably headed for yet another hearing with Brendan Shanahan, the league’s director of discipline.

Marchand last month was fined $2,500 for slew-footing Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen, but escaped a suspension. The clip on Salo now makes Marchand a frequent offender, and Shanahan has shown an intolerance this season for players who come back for second helpings of his mercy.

“You want to know the best case for keeping fighting in the game?’’ said one pro scout as the day drew to a close. “It’s because of dirty plays like that by Marchand. Take the fighting out, and that kind of stuff will go on all day long.’’

A reasonable alternative, one embraced by other professional leagues, would be to have game officials make the proper calls and have league bosses back them up with supplemental discipline. Slowly, painfully, the NHL has begun to figure that out after nearly a century of doing business. It will one day rid the game of fighting, or at the very least toss players out of the game after bouts.

It was, by far, the Bruins’ most undisciplined 60 minutes under Julien’s watch. That said, it was bizarre how his team ended up shorthanded two men when Messrs. VanMassenhoven and O’Rourke sorted out the brawl that erupted at 3:54 of the first.

Not only did they blow the call on Lucic, they also shorted the Bruins by two players, even though the core of all the fighting had Shawn Thornton buried under an avalanche of white shirts. It was six on one, a stranglehold on Thornton, and for that the Canucks were given the two-man advantage. Funny math. Crazy day.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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