BOSTON — The NHL has cracked down on the taunting that has plagued the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, but that hasn't stopped the trash-talking off the ice — at least from the Vancouver side.
NHL vice president Mike Murphy announced on Tuesday that "the garbage that is going on" had been addressed and further displays, such as players shoving their fingers in an opponent's face, will draw penalties.
While the Bruins appear to have taken Murphy's warning to heart about the excessive extracurricular activity in the series, the Canucks refuse to take any responsibility for the ugliness seen so far. According to Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa, they're just innocent victims being bullied by the big, bad Bruins.
"This group in here, we're fine with that," Bieksa said of the league's crackdown after Wednesday's morning skate before Game 4. "We know to stay away from it. Last game, yeah we were holding our ground, but I don't think you saw any scrums in front of our net. They were always in front of their net, their guys pushing and shoving after the whistle and flexing their muscles and proving how big and bad they are, but during the whistles we're the top-hitting team in the league so we're going to punish them during the whistles and we'll let them do that stuff after. The finger pointing and all that stuff, it's getting a little old really quick. When you're the sixth guy to do it, I don't think it's that funny anymore. We'll see if there's any more of that [in Game 4]."
So by Bieksa's logic, teammate Maxim Lapierre's initial taunt of Patrice Bergeron in Game 2 after Alex Burrows was not suspended for biting Bergeron in Game 1 was just fine. But Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic doing the same to Lapierre and Burrows, respectively, in Game 3 wasn't "funny anymore."
On that, at least, Bruins coach Claude Julien would agree. He was upset to see his players stoop to the Canucks' level and happy to hear that the league was cracking down on such antics going into Game 4.
"It's unfortunate," Julien said. "I was one of those guys that voiced my opinion that I wouldn't accept it. I certainly didn't share that with my team. Consequently, we were responsible for a couple of those. Obviously it was clear after the game what I expected from our guys. I'm certainly not a guy that encourages that kind of stuff.
"I think there's been some pretty exciting hockey, when you look at the physicality of the game, the goals that have been scored, how both teams are just putting everything on the line," Julien added. "I think we need to focus more on that than the other stuff that's been making headlines there. I don't think we need that in our sport. Mike Murphy was absolutely right in sending us that message to both teams. We need to sell this game in a proper way. The hockey itself is exciting enough without needing that."
But the Canucks still seem to want to try to turn this into a wrestling match, complete with the pregame posturing, as Bieksa laid all the blame for Game 3's ugliness on the Bruins, ignoring the brutal cheap shot Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome laid on Nathan Horton 5:07 into the first that set the stage for much of the chippiness throughout the game. Rome was suspended for four games, while Horton will miss the rest of the series with a concussion.
"We got sucked in last game," Bieksa said. "This is a [Boston] team that prides itself on being the tougher guy after the whistle and the pushing and the shoving. That's fine for them. We'll let them take care of that and we'll just finish our checks between the whistles and play them hard like we've done all year."
Burrows offered similar sentiments when asked about the league's crackdown.
"That's hockey right there," Burrows said. "That's how we've been playing all season long, not getting involved after the whistle. I don't know why last game we got involved a bit more. Maybe we got frustrated a bit because the score was up a bit, but at the same time we're a team that plays whistle to whistle. If they want to take penalties after the whistle and try to mix it up, then we have to make them pay on the power play. That's what we've been doing all year and that's what we'll try to do again tonight."
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was reading from the same script in his pregame news conference.
"Well, all year long we've played whistle to whistle," Vigneault said. "That hasn't changed in this series. All the referees have to do is call the ones who initiate the scrums. And that's going to stop right there."
Amazingly, it was Bruin forward Brad Marchand, the guy who usually is the one stirring up such controversies, who provided the voice of reason.
"I think they just want us to focus on playing the game and not all that other stuff," Marchand said. "We all know that. We want to drop that stuff and just get on with the series."