Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay probably won’t be pulling a Reg Dunlop and paying for an ambulance to circle Philips Arena, but the rematch with the Bruins on Thursday is sure to be a highly-anticipated clash.
Just one week ago, the Bruins rolled to a 4-1 victory over Atlanta at the TD Garden to snap out of a 1-3-1 funk and start a three-game win streak. But that’s not what most will remember from the game.
That matchup opened with a marathon bout between heavyweights Shawn Thornton and Eric Boulton just two seconds into play and ended with a massive brawl in the final five minutes. The melee was sparked by a high hit on Milan Lucic from Atlanta defenseman Freddy Meyer and climaxed with Lucic circling back to the scrum to deck Meyer with a right.
Lucic received a match penalty and was fined $3,500, but was not suspended, setting the stage for more potential fireworks when he and the Bruins make their second and final appearance in Atlanta on Thursday.
This game might not be the bloodbath many fans anticipate and hope it to be. Even with the season less than half over, the two points at stake should trump any personal scores to settle.
“I think at the end of the day it’s about winning the hockey game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said Wednesday. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to win that hockey game. Guys know when to stand up for each other. I think sometimes people anticipate so much because of what happened at the end of the last game, but we’ll see. We’re here to win the hockey game and that’s our first concern.”
The Bruins have been doing that as of late. Last week’s win over Atlanta might have been the wake-up call the club has long needed, and the way the Bruins stuck up for each other could be a turning point in what has been a frustratingly inconsistent season. The early returns at least have been good, with the Bruins rallying in the third period to tie Florida and beat the Panthers in a shootout, then squeaking out a 4-3 win at Tampa on Tuesday when Mark Recchi scored with 19.7 seconds left.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has dropped its two games since the game in Boston, stretching their losing streak to four games. The Thrashers need to get back on track far more than they need payback on Lucic.
“We can’t let our emotions get the best of us,” Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s a big game. It’s a must-win game. I’m sure it will be a physical game but you can’t do anything to jeopardize your team in a big game like this. You also want to make sure you play hard and compete for your teammates.”
It was Bogosian sitting out the last game against the Bruins to rest several nagging injuries that put Meyer back in the lineup for just the second time since October. Bogosian returned the following game and Meyer has again been a healthy scratch the last two games, and will likely sit this one out as well.
With Meyer probably not playing, that could curtail some of the bad blood between the teams.
Of course, the Thrashers also added Patrice Cormier earlier this week. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Cormier has ample skill. He was a second-round pick in 2008 and a key part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, having put up 144 points in 189 games in the QMJHL. But he also had 339 penalty minutes before being suspended for the rest of the season last January after a brutal elbow to the head of an opponent, eventually pleading guilty to assault in a Canadian court for the incident.
The Thrashers play a physical style under Ramsay, but their far from a goon squad. They’re just 19th in the NHL with 18 fighting majors, though a third of that total came with six fights in the first two games against the Bruins.
Atlanta does possess a dangerous power play, however, with the Thrashers ranked ninth in the NHL at 20.6 percent (30-146). The Bruins can counter with the third-best penalty kill in the league at 86.7 percent, having allowed the fewest power-play goals (15) and the third-fewest power-play opportunities (113). Some 19 teams have averaged less than the 13.9 penalty minutes a game the Bruins are averaging this season, but Boston has the fifth fewest minor penalties in the league (128).
The Bruins will need to maintain that level of discipline in this one to keep their winning streak going. Obviously, they must stick up for themselves and each other when necessary, but they can’t let their emotions get the better of them if Atlanta looks to escalate last week’s hostilities.