Are The Bruins Once Again The NHL’s Bullies?

By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent

It’s always tough to pinpoint exactly when it happens. Be it Eddie Shore’s attack on Ace Bailey, Mike Milbury and Co. invading the stands at Madison Square Garden, Marty McSorley’s cheap shot on Donald Brashear, or Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty, at some point in every generation the hockey world’s view of the Boston Bruins shifts. They are no longer looked upon as scrappy blue-collar players, and instead take on a new persona.

The bully.

Nathan Horton
Nathan Horton And His Victim (photo credit: SlidingSideways. Flickr, CC)

As shocking as this may sound to the Causeway Street faithful, outside of the Hub, the Bruins aren’t always looked upon in the highest regard. The latest incident, of course, is Milan Lucic’s encounter with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. The league deemed the hit unworthy of further disciplinary action, much to the disapproval of Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, who essentially declared it to be open season for goalie hunters.

“It just means teams will be able to do exactly what Lucic did,” Ruff said. “Their goaltender can play the puck, we can run him over… That’s essentially what that means. You can concuss the other team’s goaltender. You can run him going at whatever speed he was going. It means it’s fair game on goaltenders.”

Ruff isn’t the only one showing concern. Old foes Alexander Burrows and Daniel Sedin of the defending Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks both expressed their own disappointment in the league’s handling of the Lucic situation.

Of course, it was just five months ago when the Canucks were also alleging that the Bruins were guilty of bullying.

After Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final, Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieska said, “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 let’s go back even further, to a 1977 Pittsburgh Press article entitled “Here Come The Bruins…The Bullies Of Boston?“. Back then it was Minnesota North Stars owner Gordon Ritz complaining to league officials that he believed the Bruins were “over-indulgent stick swingers.”

It goes without saying that things were a little different back then, and not just on the ice. When asked to comment on the allegations, Bruins legend Gerry Cheevers didn’t pull any punches. “If I had a chicken club like [the North Stars], I’d complain to everybody too. They need all the help they can get.”

Cheevers finished with a sentiment that could very well have been quoted in the Bruins locker room today, “everybody hates us, and they’re all out to get us.”

Maybe things aren’t so different after all. Beyond the fact that the Bruins powerplay was also struggling back then (0 for 25, eight games into the 1977 season), the Big Bad Bruins appear to once again have targets on their back.

Meanwhile, the Bruins aren’t exactly helping themselves. Lucic’s hit on Miller is just the latest in a string of controversial “aggressions” Boston has had a hand in.

In last year’s Cup Final, Boston’s dominant and intimidating play was highlighted by a few instances in which there were cries of foul-play from the North West. These included Brad Marchand using Daniel Sedin as a punching bag, Tim Thomas’s “aggressive goaltending,” Lucic’s whack on Burrows,  and Thomas’s statement response to Burrows’ mischeif.

Needless to say, while Boston and their fans may view these acts as noble dominance and defense of home ice, the rest of league is beginning to grow tired of the act. Earlier this year it was reported that coaches were instructing their teams not to engage the Bruins in post-whistle scrums. Well, the Bruins are still finding ways to physically take over hockey games, and the league is, for the most part, letting “boys be boys.”

The knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that Buffalo may take a run at Thomas or Tuukka Rask during the Northeast Division rivals’ November 23rd rematch. If that’s the Sabres plan, they may want to rethink it. Unlike the teammates of Ryan Miller, there’s no question that any member of the Bruins roster would surely have done their best to separate the head from the shoulders of the perpetrator.

Maybe the debate shouldn’t be whether or not the Bruins are bullies, but whether or not the rest of the league can keep pace with the physical tone the defending Stanley Cup Champions have found success using.

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22 thoughts on “Are The Bruins Once Again The NHL’s Bullies?”

  1. Boxing is an exiting sport when played within the rules. If one boxer hits below the belt continually and is allowed to, does that make him a better man or boxer than his opponent? Because he gets away with it does that make him that much better than his opponents. It’s the same in all sports and what Bruins fans try to do is justify the goonish mentality that has become entrenched in it’s organization. This mentality has been passed on through it’s tradition of thugs such as Milbury, Neally, Lucic, and on and on. How can all these other teams and players that have spoken out not only over the years but especially over the past year be so out of place with there comments. The Bruins players know what their about and comments such as Recchi’s last year stating Montreal were sitting out Pacharetti to draw a suspension should go penalized by the league.

    Shannahan was a breath of fresh air when he started this year but I think Collin Campbell found out his email address and made it very clear that there is one team that is untouchable. If Shannahan has any balls and cares about his future reputation he will start to see it as really is. We all know who still has a direct line when it comes to suspensions in the league especially when it comes to the Bruins. To all you Bruins fans you have what your team always works towards so go ahead and enjoy. Just remember what goes around comes around and even though the “Untouchables” are taking advantage of their recently found ability to avoid trouble there is always someone bigger, and dumber that is willing to do what it takes to make a name for himself. The lives these goons have changed and careers they have affected have created a pile of enemies league wide. Yes it’s a contact game Bruins fans we all know that and don’t need to be reminded everytime another goon knocks out an opposing player. These are sons, fathers, and husbands that go to work each day and expect to go home each night to perform again the next night. The stupidity that is puked down on paper from so-called hockey fans about, “hockey plays”, and “part of the game”, with my favorite being “these young men knew what they signed up for when they came into the league”. Present one contract that states these players are warned that their life expectancy will be shorter by playing hockey in the NHL and that they should be aware that they are not doing their jobs unless once they finish their lives will be drastically affected because of the head trauma inflicted by other players.

    Maybe Boston as a whole should go back to their tea parties. The rest of the world will be a whole lot better off for it.

  2. Props to the Bruins for being one of the few teams that continue to play Canadian-style hockey. The No Hit League (new NHL) is evolving into a quasi-Euro style that has even girls cringing. I sincerely hope that teams such as the Bruins continue to buck that trend.

    • Would it be wrong if Cooke ran Thomas the same way and took him out for 6 months? Remember this is just a “hockey Play”. Would it be wrong and suspension worthy if Mr. Tyler S. were to have his head driven through the glass 3 seconds after he plays the puck by Avery of the Rangers. Yes, and with this brain dead play you lose him for the remainder of the season to a head injury and broken neck with no guarantee that he will make it back to play the same or at all. Remember “it’s a contact sport”. To sit back and act so barbarick all in the name of just being a fan seems too redneck for me.

      I watch American and Canadian soldiers represent us in war torn countries and the last thing I would say when they carry them home in a box is “they know what they signed up for”, or “that happened because they were too cowardly to put up a better fight”. Let’s get real.

      We’re talking about a game and these men’s lives are just as vulnerable when out on the ice. A “quasi Euro-style game”, what is this. Every night players are getting hurt playing in the NHL. Do you know how many head injuries have been incurred this year or do you live in this fantasy video game world where you just push restart and the players all start with a full energy bar.

      Please put yourself in a parents role for just 5 minutes and tell me you would justify the game the same way to me if we were standing over your son’s body just brought in to the hospital with a head injury. You’re brain dead yourself if you answer you would.

  3. The reason the Bruins players don’t get suspended is because these plays you are whining about are “hockey plays” (straight from the horses mouth). The Bruins don’t go running players from behind or dishing out headshots, if they did they’d get suspended (Danny Paille vs Stars last year). The Chara hit was an interference penalty, that’s all, everyone agrees he did not intentionally slam his head into the stachion, including the MTL cops. The Lucic hit was just him not avoiding Miller who was 20 plus feet out of his net. This is the type of things that could happen when you walk that fine line. To think the league has a bias towards the Bruins is an absolute joke. Instead of blaming others (the league) maybe it’s time all you whining fans take a look at your own team. Do you actually think suspending Lucic for a game or 2 is going to make a difference.

    Someone mentioned jealously … I do think other fans are jealous, if you aren’t you should be. Not because the Bruins are in bed with the league (again, that’s ridiculous). You should be jealous because the Bruins have the ability to play that physical. It’s not like they put a bunch of goons out there that can only fight. Chara is a Top 3 defensmen in the NHL and has been for years, Lucic scored 30 goals, McQuaid led the NHL in +/-, Thornton scores about 10 a year, but at any moment can change a game (see Game 7 of the Stanley Cup). Each one of these players is a guy 29 other teams would love to have. On top of that, if they do get a couple extra penalties it’s ok we’ll kill them, the Bruins have great PK guys, Bergeron, Marchand, Peverly, Kelly, Paille are all as good as they come then there is the man himself Tim Thomas.

    So keep blaming the league and we’ll keep going deep into May and June. This bullying will only stop when other teams man up, problem is sending a fighter out for 1 shift isn’t maning (manning?) up, manning up is having a lineup of 20 guys who can skate, score and battle, no one else has that. As for just walking away, ask Vancouver how well that worked out.

  4. For what it’s worth Steve, I think that if other teams in the league tried to emulate the way the Bruins play hockey, they would find themselves in the penalty box so often that it wouldn’t be worth it. Ken Holland famously told Zetterberg that the kind of toughness he wanted Detroit to have involved five guys clicking on the power play. But what do you do when you’re playing a team that is running around punching guys after the whistle without getting sent to the box? Goon them back? Then you take penalties. Start embellishing? Then the refs claim they aren’t giving you calls because you’re embellishing. At the end of the day, this issue isn’t about the toughness of the Bruins or the possibility that teams need to model themselves after them, it is about the treatment that the team has somehow been able to receive from the league for the past 2-3 seasons. Any NHL fan can rattle off a laundry list of incidents where the Bruins went unpunished for something that any player on any other team in the league would have been tossed for.

    • I agree there have been cases where the Bruins should have had players suspended (read my piece about Lucic — for which I have been hammered by Bruins fans). I like tough, physical hockey, but there is a line between tough and physical and dirty, and the Bruins have a couple guys who cross that line from time to time.

  5. Lots of Bruins skate well and fast Rich Peverley,Tyler Seguin,Patrice Bergeron,Brad Marchand,David Krejci etc.
    I don’t buy for one second that they are slow.
    The bullies label an old label fits the Bruin bashers agenda they simply play both a physical and skilled game.
    I don’t see anyone calling the Penguins goons and they have the former Mr suspension Matt Cooke.
    There has been 13 suspensions already this 2011/12 NHL season up to this point none are Boston Bruins.

    • I think a few people have called the Pens goons … they certainly have their share of guys who get themselves in trouble! Read some of the stuff out of DC or Philly — they love to rip on the Penguins!

      There is actually nothing wrong with being a tough team. The Bruins built their team pretty intelligently in my opinion. Strong goaltending, solid D, and a bunch of guys who are tough to play against. The Pens are similar, but not as strong in goal or on D

  6. Good article. The thing I am struggling with though is why the reat of the league (or at times the majority of it) seem to think Bruins fans should be ashamed of thier teams make-up or style. We couldn’t be prouder. What’s not to like about a highly skilled team, with the league’s best goaltending tandem, that will run you out of the building if they think that will get them the win that night?

    We’re not embarassed or hurt by your jealous comments. It comes with being the world champions and we get that (we have quite a few in Boston).

    • So you believe the article is just “jealous comments” and you don’t care… but you also open your comment with “Good article”. Brilliant.
      Someone tells you your team is gooning their way to wins over superior teams, and they are getting away with it because the league has a separate rule book for them. You respond “We couldn’t be prouder”. Brilliant. You’re not exactly fighting the stereotypes about Bruins fans.

      • The Bruins aren’t gooning, regardless of how Lucic acted while running to Miller and this is coming from a Buffalo fan.

        The Bruins are a physical team and while some people may say they play dirty but they play tough and physical, maybe its time for the rest of the league to prove they can play with the Stanley Cup Champions, Buffalo will have their shot next Wed.

        • Or maybe it’s time for the league to hold the Bruins accountable for their style of play and address the widely held perception that they have a guardian angel in the league’s policy enforcement division. Lucic escaping suspension for cheapshotting a guy in the face after the whistle just weeks after another play gets suspended for it, an unprecedented suspension for Rome in the SC finals, Ference escaping suspension for fingering the crowd, Boychuk boarding a guy in a vulnerable position so hard that he breaks his back and puts him out for 4-6 months… and that’s just in the last few months of last season. Are you seriously suggesting that the league should start encouraging other teams to do this, rather than discouraging the Bruins from doing it? Is that how you want your team to play?

  7. And whether or not you agree with goalies being protected out of the crease, the fact is there is a rule that does protect them. Unless they change that rule –which I think they should — the goalie is not fair game and hits like the one we saw should be penalized, as it was.

  8. And it is what Detroit did in two back-to-back wins over Boston last season. Boston struggles with quick teams that refuse to involve themselves in the physicality. They struggled with an inferior Montreal team and did not have to play Pittsburgh or Washington in the playoffs — both teams would have posed serious match-up problems for the Bruins.

    That does not take away from their Stanley Cup in any way, as they were the best team when it counted. But to say that a fast, speedy team can’t beat the Bruins is not accurate. They can — especially if Thomas doesn’t stand on his head.

  9. Sabre’s GM Darcy Regier had this to say after the hit but before the ruling by the NHL.

    “If this hit and other types of hits like this are not suspended, we are opening up the possibility of losing goaltenders to injury. And not just injury, but concussion,” Regier said. “… When I look at the position of goaltending, in a lot of ways it’s not unlike quarterback in football. I feel very strongly the protection has to be provided and players committing these types of action should be punished.”

    Let’s look at this objectively then. I agree that a goalie is much the same as a quarterback in football. In football when the quarterback is in the pocket and a play is unfolding he is protected. However, if that same quarterback decides to pull the ball down and run with it, he is no longer treated as a quarterback (outside of the hook slide) in the eyes of the officials. Once that decision is made he becomes another player on the field and is subject to the same treatment as all the other players on the field, including penalty calls.

    A goalie in hockey is the same. When the goalie is in the crease he is protected. However, once a decision is made to leave the crease and play the puck elsewhere on the ice, the goalie should be treated the same as any other player on the ice. In this situation this happened, Lucic was assessed a two minute charging penalty just as if if he had hit a defenceman who had played the puck. End of story.

    It’s funny how the Bruins are labelled bullies for this hit and Lucic had to have a meeting with the league yet nothing was said about the Habs Brian Gionta’s hit on James Reimer of the Leafs. On this play the player (Gionta) entered the crease, made contact with goalies head and put the goalie out for at least two weeks with a concussion. There wasn’t even a call on the ice, but hey we all know the Canadiens aren’t bullies so it must be ok for them to get away with it.

  10. The Bruins are definitely bullies, and that’s how they want it to be and how they built their team. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it becomes difficult to defend the actions of a guy like Lucic when time after time he makes decisions that can certainly appear to be cheap/dirty (sucker punches, running the goalie. There are teams who can play the same style (San Jose, Philly, NYR) but not to the same level as Boston. There are also teams who can rise above that style of play and could possibly beat the Bruins with speed (Detroit, Washington). It will be interesting to see if teams try to emulate what the Bruins have done and create strong, physical teams.

    • “There are also teams who can rise above that style of play and could possibly beat the Bruins with speed (Detroit, Washington).”

      Isn’t that exactly what Montreal and Vancouver said they would do last Spring?

      • Montreal did almost beat them, and I’m of the mind that Vancouver could have dispatched of the Bruins if it were not for the injuries/suspensions that decimated their defence ( Rome, Hamhuis, Ehrhoff, Edler).

        Not only that, the Canadiens were on the cusp of beating the Bruins and I can’t help but wonder if Max Pacioretty had been available to play, his contributions would’ve pushed the Canadiens past the Bruins. It seems somewhat of an injustice that Chara laid Pacioretty out for the remainder of the season without any repercussions from the league, and it was the Bruins that ultimately defeated the Canadiens sans Pacioretty.

        • Exactly. The Bruins are a great team but every time a coin got tossed by a ref or a league official, the Bruins somehow won the toss. Consider the fact that they barely won two 7-game series and it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to consider the possibility that with a more balanced application of the rules, they wouldn’t have beat either team. I am certainly no fan of the Canucks, but I thought the Rome suspension was absolutely ridiculous (the length, not the fact that he was suspended) and the Bruins were consistently able to start fights and throw cheap shots without any response from the refs. What would that series have been like if the Bruins were forced to skate with the Canucks, if the Canucks hadn’t lost players to injury from very questionable plays, etc.? That is the Stanley Cup Final I wanted to see, not the garbage we had to watch last year.

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