Bruins’ Pugilistic Prowess, Rivals’ Rough Additions May Make Northeast NHL’s Most Bruised Division

Shawn ThorntonThe Bruins have seen a return to the big, bad days of yesteryear in recent seasons, and because of that, they have been the Northeast Division’s bully. Perhaps hand in hand, the B’s have been the division’s most successful club in the last few years.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the rest of the division is beginning to bulk up in an attempt to keep pace with the B’s both in the standings and on the fight card.

Of course, the Stanley Cup isn’t given out to the team that drops the glove the most, but there’s no denying that a tough team like the B’s can have success, as evidenced by a large, gold piece of cloth hanging from the TD Garden rafters that reads “2011 Stanley Cup Champions.”

The Bruins’ Northeast Division rivals continue to add muscle, power and grit. We continue to get ready for this shortened NHL season, and in diving back into some offseason moves, we see that the Bruins won’t be able to push everyone around this season in a division-heavy slate.

Take the Buffalo Sabres for instance. Perhaps the most talented team in the division that doesn’t play its games in the shadow of the Zakim Bridge, the Sabres also added some beef in the offseason. The biggest and baddest addition, quite literally in both instances, was the signing of former Rangers, Blackhawks and Wild enforcer John Scott.

“John’s size and toughness make him a difficult player to battle against,” Buffalo general manger Darcy Regier said at the time. “His physical play will be a valuable addition to our team.”

It sure will. Scott, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound bruiser, has never been one to shy away from a fight. He’ll also stick up for his teammate, which should be a welcomed change for a Sabres bunch that looked pretty gutless last season against the Bruins. Everyone knows how the Sabres reacted (they didn’t) when Bruins forward Milan Lucic ran over Sabres all-world goalie Ryan Miller. Lucic didn’t have to answer for that until the next time the two teams met, at which time Lucic pounded Paul Gaustad.

None of that will happen under Scott’s watch. Ain’t that right, Deryk Engelland?

The Sabres didn’t stop there, either. They also added noted agitator and self-proclaimed face0ff wizard Steve Ott. The Bruins are more than aware of what Ott will do to get under a team’s skin, and you can expect that with five meetings between the two teams in less than 100 days, you can imagination the fireworks these teams may be destined to produce.

Buffalo wasn’t alone in that thinking, though. While the Canadiens are never shy about dropping the gloves with their longtime rivals (well, most of them at least), that doesn’t mean they didn’t pass up a chance to get tougher, too. The Habs went out and signed former Rangers tough guy Brandon Prust, who will no doubt make Montreal a tougher team to play against. The 28-year-old, who once registered 35 fights in a single OHL season, will be a familiar dance partner for Lucic, Shawn Thornton and Co.

Then again, Prust — whose 20 bouts last season included this one-sided dance with Lucic — may be better off picking on someone his own size.

However, the Canadiens and Sabres aren’t just chasing the Bruins. The Senators, pegged by many to finish in the Eastern Conference cellar last season, surprised those same pundits by making the playoffs and giving the Rangers all they could handle in the first round.

They weren’t a fun team to play against, either, with four players racking up at least 98 penalty minutes, including Zenon Konopka and Chris Neil, who logged 193 PIM and 178 PIM, respectively.

Will adding strength and toughness make teams like the Sabres and Canadiens instant favorites in the Northeast? No it won’t, in the same way the willingness to throw down alone won’t guarantee the Bruins and Senators finish atop the division again this season.

But it’s clear that toughness is valued among most of the Northeast (Toronto … not so much), and that fact alone will likely make it one of the best divisions in hockey and certainly one of the most fun to watch.

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Tune in to NESN on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m. ET for complete coverage of the Bruins’ season-opening game against the Rangers.

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