The Bruins have brought the big and bad back to Boston, thrilling Garden crowds with a pair of fight-filled victories over Dallas and Montreal in the past week. The Bruins had 10 fighting majors in those two games alone, and now sit atop the NHL with 55 fighting majors through 54 games.
"I guess after last night we must," Shawn Thornton said when asked about the Bruins' league-leading fight totals after practice Thursday at Ristuccia Arena. "Everybody knows how we're built anyway. We have a pretty big, tough team."
But on Friday they welcome Detroit to town, and the Red Wings aren't likely to help Boston pad their fight stats. Detroit is last in the league with just eight fights, having dropped the gloves less all season than the Bruins have in the past week.
Detroit hasn't had a fight in its last 22 games, its last scrap coming back on Dec. 19. Thornton (13 fights), Adam McQuaid (10 fights) and Greg Campbell (eight fights) each have at least as many fights on their own as the entire Detroit roster. With 16 different players having fought so far this season, the Bruins have twice as many players with fighting majors as Detroit has total fights as a team.
So will the Bruins be able to maintain the emotional involvement and physical style that has been the key to their success against a team that isn't likely to engage them in such activities?
"You don't have to fight every period, every game," Campbell said. "But to create that emotion you can play hard and play physical. Obviously Detroit's a skilled team. There's a lot of guys on that team that are proven winners. It's not necessarily about fighting. It's more about just bringing that physical element to the game. That's what our team is built on, to be a physical team. We have big forwards. We have strong D. And when we play like that, we're playing to our strength."
The Bruins have to be true to their identity whether the opponent matches that intensity or not, but they also have to be careful not to go overboard. Detroit has the kind of speed and skill to make a team pay for getting caught out of position looking for a big hit. And if the Bruins get too carried away, the Red Wings have the league's sixth-ranked power play (20.6 percent), which is even better on the road (22.7 percent, second best in NHL).
"I think that really good teams can't be one-dimensional," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "You have to win in different ways. Sometimes they're ugly wins, sometimes they're beautiful plays, sometimes there's crazy physical play. You can't totally base it off your opponent. You still have to bring what your attributes are to the game and one of our attributes is being physical.
"So even if it is a team that's not necessarily known for fighting and stuff like that, you can't just abandon certain aspects of your game like that," Ference added. "But in saying that, you can't just rely on that physical side, running around while they pass around you and go down and score."
The Bruins will still do their best to wear down the Red Wings with some physical play, albeit in this one that will mean finishing checks rather than shedding mitts. The Bruins don't really expect Detroit punch back the way the Stars and Canadiens did, but that doesn't mean they're taking the Red Wings lightly.
"There's been a lot of teams that have tried to push Detroit around and it doesn't really work," Campbell said. "People always say they don't have a tough team, but the fact of the matter is they win."
Detroit has won four Cups since 1997 and is perennially at or near the top of the regular-season standings. Though it also has to be noted that the Red Wings did feature some toughness each year they won a championship, with heavyweights Joe Kocur and Darren McCarty in 1997 and 1998, McCarty in 2002 and Aaron Downey and McCarty in 2007, plus support from the likes of Brendan Shanahan and Martin Lapointe.
The Red Wings have fallen short in the playoffs every year without that element of toughness, even if they did not call upon it often as they've been last in the league in fights in every season since the lockout. Detroit is going the pacifist route again this season, but their success can't be denied as the Red Wings bring a 32-16-6 record into Friday's clash.
Relying on skill and finesse may work for Detroit, but the Bruins plan to stick with the physical that has fueled their success.
"I think as team, you have to play to your strength, whether you're playing a team like Detroit or a team like Dallas that kind of matches us in that physical play," Campbell said. "For us, if we want to be successful, that's how we have to play. We have to understand that. If you look at our games, that's when we're at our best, when we play physical. It's not about fighting. It's just about playing hard, playing physical and winning battles. That's how I think we're going to win and go deep in the playoffs."