Bruins-Canucks and Red Wings-Blackhawks a contrast in styles

Brad Marchand upends Sami Salo durign Saturday's game. Marchand is facing a suspension for the clip, which appaered to be just above Salo's knee. (Boston Herald)

This weekend’s NHL slate was like a Charles Dickens novel – it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. One game showcased the preeminent aspects of the sport, while another displayed the nastiest.

Let’s start with the bad: Vancouver at Boston. Sure it was exciting to see the bad blood between the two teams and the intensity of the fans and players. That was great to see in a Saturday game in January. Other than that, there was not much else good from this game.

It started just moments in, when Alex Burrows and Shawn Thornton decided to trade stick jabs. I like both of these players, but Thornton whacking Burrows as he was changing and Burrows retaliating with a stick pointed at the throat of Thornton was uncalled for. If it stopped there, it would be been OK, but at that point, the remaining Canucks on the ice (as well as one from the bench) proceeded to jump Thornton, creating a 6-on-1 for a few seconds.

When did this sort of behavior become acceptable? Burrows has 11 NHL fights, and he is more than capable of dropping the gloves. Thornton is out of his league, but if you want to put your stick in his face, you have to be prepared to defend yourself. It was a 1-on-1 battle, and there is no need for anyone else to jump in to save the day.

The game just went downhill from there, with both teams taking dives, throwing cheap shots, and causing long delays between whistles. The Bruins let their emotions get the better of them on a number of occasions, and hurt themselves with penalties against one of the league’s top power plays. Brad Marchand’s hit was definitely dirty, as he submarined Sami Salo, taking him out around the knees (may have been slightly above – but clearly well below the hip). Marchand was given a five-minute major and the Canucks scored what proved to be the game-winner during the ensuing power play.

Marchand always plays on the edge and has been a major contributor to Boston’s success this year and last. He is clearly talented, but every so often throws out a dirty hit, such as the slew-foot on Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen in December. To his credit, he admitted the slew-foot was a dirty play. However, on Saturday, he claimed self-defense. Maybe it was self-defense to avoid a bit from the much larger Salo, but to lower your hip to take out a player around the knees is never acceptable.

Marchand’s situation is similar to Burrows. If he wants to throw hits like that and be a pest, he should have to answer for it. Boston fans love to say he will fight, but he has just three fights in his NHL career, and the list is not exactly a who’s who of the NHL fight club — Niskanen, P.K. Subban, and Andrew Cogliano. Now, Marchand is not really big enough to be fighting, but if he wants to slew-foot and slip players, he must be willing to answer the bell. He is definitely one of the guys Brian Burke was raving about last week – the rats who do not have to answer for their actions.

Of course, Salo’s response was also a disgrace. He threw a mini-tantrum and threw a stick almost over the glass. That too should have been penalized. That’s something you expect to see in a Bantam or Pee Wee game, not the NHL.

Another disgusting point came when Vancouver’s Dale Weise challenged Thornton at a face-off, then backed away when Thornton dropped his gloves. Though I am no huge fan of these staged fights, there is no place for a guy who challenges someone and backs down. If you lay the challenge down, you should back it up, win or lose. At least the officials gave him an unsportsmanlike penalty – one of the few calls they got right in this game,

The game was giant circus, and brought out the worst in both teams (as well as the officials). Neither demonstrated why they are near the top of the standings and are amongst the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in June. I do not believe either team acts this way regularly, as Boston usually plays physical but within the rules, and Vancouver does not usually get into that style. Both teams proved last year they are the best when it comes to walking the line and playing with skill and inteiigence. Sadly, both forgot about that on Saturday, turning what could have been a showcase game into a disgusting sideshow – instead of a great game we got bear-baiting.

Detroit and Chicago, on the other hand, demonstrated what is great about the sport. The teams attacked each other at breakneck

speed, with very few whistles, a bunch of heavy but clean hits, just a handful of penalties, no ridiculous wrestling matches or fingers in each other’s faces, and lots of speed and skill on display.

Before one goes and says neither team plays with the toughness of the Bruins, remember that toughness comes in a lot of forms. Sure the Bruins are physical, intimidating team. They use their size and strength to bowl over teams. The Hawks and Wings may not have as much size as the Bruins, but both have a ton of grit and toughness.

As Ken Dryden said in the Globe & Mail last week, “fight” does not necessarily mean “fighting.” It means so many other things as well. It means physical toughness, mental toughness, it means discipline, it means sacrifice, it means grit. Though there were not fights in the game, there was plenty of fight on display.

It takes grit to fight through a check to get to the net, as Patrick Kane does regularly; it takes physical toughness to take the abuse in front of the net to create a screen that leads to a rebound goal, as Johan Franzen did on Pavel Datsyuk’s game-winning goal in OT; it takes mental toughness to battle back froma  two-goal deficit on the road; it takes discipline not to retaliate and take dumb penalties, as both teams demonstrated time and time again.

Many fans love the type of game Vancouver and Boston played on Saturday. But for me, give me the style played by Detroit and Chicago seven days a week and twice on Sunday. It’s more exciting, more pure, and just a better brand of hockey. The Bruins and Canucks needed a reminder of what got them to the Stanley Cup finals last year, and they got it Sunday night in Chicago.




  • Usaamah

    I love the way the Red Wings play (I am a big Wings fan) but I really think the way Boston is playing most of tge time should be pinished much harsher. I didn’t really watch the game because I knew it would turn messy.. after the last time Detroit played the canucks I knew they were starting to play the boston way, but the league should make thia kind of thing much stricter. If players play like the misconducts and suspensions should be easier and longer. If Boston got 3-4 players suspendsd that game. I doubt they would continue that style of play. Less players woyld get hurt. Wed get more clean exciting fast paced hockey.

  • skendall17

    If you read, you would see I wrote that Thornton slahed Burrows to start it, that Marchand’s hit was dirty and deserved his major, and that this game is not indicative of either team’s skill and they are favorites to win the Cup this year. However, this game was s disgrace to the sport. It was not hockey — it was filled with goon play, diving, long stalls because of stupidity, and poor play. It was not a game I would like to see as a showcase of the sport. You like that style of play, that’s fine. I, and many others, do not.  6-on-1 is not acceptable, and acting like a spoiled baby because someone hit you is embarrassing.

  • Sdh

     That was one of the best games of the years. quick smoking crack you bum!

  • canuckfan

    I said I wouldn’t but another dumb point: you mention the Canuck jump Thorton. What you fail to even mention is that that response was because Thorton jumped Burrows. You make is sound as if Burrows put his stick into Thortons throat, Thorton took is passively, and then the Canucks sneakily jumped Thorton as he was turning the cheek.

  • bruinsfan

    What you were watching? Yes there was a bad-blood, cheap shots, fights etc, and we would expect that. But it also was a great game full of skills, lead changes, and great goals. You decide to focus on the negative and completely ignore the fact that it was a great game that did showcase why these are two of the best teams in the NHL. Seriously, what were you watching? 

    Also, Salo is known as a fragile, injury-prone player and he was INJURED by a DIRTY hit and you blame him for the “tantrum”? How would you feel? He threw his stick, big deal? Seriously, I won’t even get into the rest of your failed analysis and I definitely will avoid your insightless articles in the future.

    • skendall17

      People get hit hard all the time and don’t act like that. Just because he wears your uniform doesn’t make it OK, just as because Marchand wears a Bruins uniform doesn’t make it OK that he hit someone low, as Bruins fans love to point out. In my opinion, that was a gross display of hockey. There was nothing good about it, other than a Canucks’ win if you are a Vancouver fan. The teams acted poorly, the skill level is not what I expect from these two teams, and the officiating was brutal. It should have been a showcase for what is great about the sport, but instead it was filled with thuggery, diving, long delays, poor sportsmanship, and a lot of whining. Hopefully it was just a one-time deal and the next time they play, there is more hockey involved.

      • google

        Fair enough. But if you do not like the thuggery you really gotta lay the blame on the bruins. Its simply the tactic they use to try to muck of the Canucks’ game. In any other game the Canucks are not at all like that. Yes, they play energetic and hit alot, but they definitely do not play a between the whistles type game. The Bruins do, and especially so against the Canucks, because its their obvious one-up on the Canucks. So they perpetually act goonish, forcing the Canucks to answer in similar style, within reason. Not justifying the Canucks’ behaivor but there is only so many times you can hope the ref will call a penalty when Marchand or Thorton is punching a Sedin in the face repeatedly.

        Perhaps this is why I like the Canucks-Blackhawks rivalry better than the Canucks-Bruins. The Canucks have a similar distaste/grudge for both, although with Chicago the rivalry is longer and more storied. But when the Blackhawks and Canucks play, while there is some bad blood, the games also are, even more so, a real battle of skill and speed. They both are trying to outplay each much more. With the Bruins, they try to grad into into a pound-for-pound slug fest, essentially wanting to throw wrenches into the Canucks energetic attack, while out-muscling and out-punching the canucks for rebound goals etc…

        • skendall17

          Most of the criticism of the game revolves around the thuggery, almost all of which is started by the Bruins. I do enjoy the fast-paced skilled games more than the fight-filled circuses. I would much rather watch Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver, Buffalo, the Rangers, Washington and San Jose. There were flashes of that type of hockey in that game Saturday, and both teams certainly can play that style, but it was lost in the rest of it. I certainly do appreciate the Canucks’ skill, and I appreciate the Bruins’ style most nights as well, but I did not enjoy Saturday’s game at all.

    • skendall17

      The goon-style and cheap shots took away from the skilled play of guys like Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Patrice Bergeron. I have zero interest in watching a 6-on-1 attack, people pointing fingers in Burrows’ mouth, and Marchand throwing a cheap hit. Too much emphasis on thuggery and not enough skill. Unlike most New Englanders, I do not hate the Canucks. I think they are a skilled team (as I pointed out) and I expect more from them and the Bruins, for that matter. Thug hockey is not what I expect from two Stanley Cup contenders. Sorry, but that is my opinion. You can enjoy that type of hockey if you like, but I do not, and I would love to see the game rid of hits like the one Marchand threw (glad he got 5 games) and antics like those of others on the ice on Saturday.

  • Steve Kendall

    And where did I write he wanted it to kill a spectator? I don’t see that. The exact wording is, “He threw a mini-tantrum and threw a stick almost over the glass. That too should have been penalized.” Nothing about trying to hurt a fan or even mentioning a fan.

  • iron hand

    yeah salo threw his stick and clearly wanted it to tear through the net and kill a spectator, you sir are a dim bulb…….

    • Steve Kendall

      He threw the stick, didn’t he? Intent doesn’t matter. He threw the stick. That is a penalty according to the rule book. I expect that from a kid, not an NHL player. Sorry I have higher expectations of adults than you do.

      • Mmeldola

        I wonder what you think/thought of Scott Stevens, Hall of Fame hockey player? You and the NHL rulers will probably win. The game will be stripped of spontaneous and “don’t think twice” hitting. The game of hockey will evolve to a total finesse game and spoiled players will indulge in gamesmanship instead of courage. Boston is the last of the old style hockey teams left although the Pens were capable of physical, intimidating play last year. Will you be happy when the NHL takes the same route as the NBA?