The first meeting between the clubs since Zdeno Chara‘s hit on Max Pacioretty and the first clash on Boston ice since the Original Six rivals racked up 182 penalty minutes last month is sure to be a heated encounter. But the NHL wants to make sure it doesn’t get too heated.
Commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly spoke to Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli and Montreal counterpart Pierre Gauthier at last week’s GMs meeting to make sure things didn’t degenerate into too much of a melee in this matchup, and senior vice president and director of officiating Terry Gregson will also be on hand for the game to keep a watchful eye.
While neither team wants to be breaking any new penalty-minute records with the stakes as high as they are in this clash between clubs vying for the Northeast Division crown, the Bruins do have some concerns over how the increased scrutiny could affect their game.
Boston is a team that thrives on physical play and performs at its best when emotionally involved in games.
“I think being physical is part of our game,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who leads Boston with 154 hits and scored his 30th goal in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over New Jersey. “I think our main focus is to build and continue what we did [Tuesday] night, and I think what we did [Tuesday] night was once we started to get harder on the forecheck and once we started to be physical we started to be more successful, and it was against a really stingy team. That’s what Montreal is too. They’ve been a tough team for us to score against.”
But will the officials allow the Bruins to play that physical style, or will veteran referees Dan O’Halloran and Dan O’Rourke call things so tightly that the Bruins can’t establish that sort of game without spending most of the night killing penalties?
“I hope not,” Lucic said. “Physicality is a part of this game. Being able to hit and forecheck and whatnot is a big part of our game and a big part of my game. We’re successful doing that and I don’t think we should shy away from that at all and I don’t think we’re going to.
“We can’t lose that edge,” he added. “Obviously it’s unfortunate that guy got hurt the way he did in a play that happens in hockey and a play we’ve seen so many times before. Obviously we’re happy to hear that he’s making a full recovery, but we can’t lose that edge. We still have to play physical.”
Still, Lucic admitted that he expects the refs to be keeping a tight lid on this one, though that might not prevent some nastiness from breaking out.
“I think they’ll be watching for sure,” Lucic said. “It’s always exciting to see the Bruins and Canadiens play. Look at the last home game we played against them, obviously there was a lot of stuff going on. Who’s to say a lot of the same stuff won’t be going on [Thursday]? I think they’re looking at every game for something to happen. But for ourselves we just have to focus on ourselves and do whatever we need to do to win. They’ve been a tough opponent for us this year. We’re not happy only winning one of the first five games and we want to end this series on a good note.”
Boston has struggled mightily against the Habs this season, going 1-3-1 in the first five meetings. Even that victory raised some concerns, as the Bruins still gave up six goals amid the non-stop parade to the penalty box. So what has made the Canadiens such a tough matchup for the Bruins?
“They play us hard and they have a good system,” Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. “They have a lot of quick players and a good goalie. They have the ingredients to be a tough team to play against and they have shown up really well against us.
“I don’t think it’s any big mystery or anything like that,” Ference added. “They’ve just played better than us.”
And what’s the solution to counter that?
“Play as good as you can, put your best product on the ice and see what shakes out,” Ference said. “And you hope that your players and your system when done correctly is better than the other team’s. That’s what it comes down to.”
Boston’s system depends on playing an aggressive style. The Bruins need to stick to that and punish the smaller Habs with clean hits and a physical forecheck. But they also need to be allowed to play that way without fear of the officials taking control of the game.
Despite the bad blood of past encounters, the significance of this game in the division race is likely to put any thoughts of retribution on hold. Hopefully the Bruins and Habs will both be able to play to their strengths within the rules and see which style of play will prevail without undo interference from the refs.
“Everyone talks about revenge and what’s going to happen and the buildup,” Lucic said. “But I’m sure [the Canadiens] are saying the most important thing is for them to get the two points and that’s our focus right now too. They’re right behind us in the standings and that’s the only thing in mind, to create more of a separation between us and them.”
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