The Boston Bruins have 11 games left in the regular season before their sights will turn to a far more important goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Though the team is chasing history and could finish the 2022-23 season with both the most wins and points by a team, the Stanley Cup will always be the top priority for players in the NHL. If the Bruins are going to make a deep run as everybody expects them to, however, they’re going to have to play with a team-first mentality without stepping over the line.
When the Bruins took on the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night for the first time at TD Garden this season, tempers flared. Without even getting into a more ridiculous discussion about how these two teams have only played twice this season through 71 games with the first game at TD Garden coming 71 games into the season, it’s important to note that these franchises form one of the biggest and oldest rivalries in professional sports. With that comes a little more jawing, a little more contact during play and in between whistles, more interaction from the crowd and typically an intense environment regardless of standings.
This was the case Thursday when the Bruins would beat the Canadiens by a score of 4-2 for the second time in as many games. Various examples of plays that drew the ire of each team can be cited, but the most notable one came prior to a faceoff in the first period when A.J. Greer would cross-check Canadiens’ forward Mike Hoffman square in the chin. This would be ruled a major penalty on the ice and would result in a game misconduct and a one-game suspension for Greer as a result. Thankfully, Hoffman would return with a full mask for the remainder of the game and appeared to be okay outside of stitches creating a massive mess on his chin.
Greer may not have fully intended to hit Hoffman the way he did or in the location he did, but it’s impossible to defend a player cross-checking an opposing player high without expecting things to potentially go awry. Tempers will flare and things are almost certainly going to escalate in the postseason. Even teams with the tamest interactions during a regular season series often find themselves at each other’s throats by the time Game 2 rolls around due to the stakes, gamesmanship and other factors that are unique to each individual series.
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If things get intense in a playoff game, the Bruins will be severely handcuffed if they find themselves shorthanded for five consecutive minutes and down a player for the remainder of the game.
Bruins’ Must Keep Emotions in Check
Players shouldn’t just roll over let the opposition feel like they can take advantage of the physical aspect of the game, but playing within the rulebook is important. The Bruins have been the most dominant team in the NHL this season and their depth is a crucial reason behind this; if that depth is getting themselves thrown out of games and suspended, it puts a lot more stress on the remaining players to pull out a victory.
This shouldn’t be considered a personal attack against Greer; these things do happen and he was justifiably assessed a major penalty, a game misconduct and given a suspension as consequence. Context is important too as part of what may have created some animosity during the game was a late, high hit to the head of Patrice Bergeron from Canadiens’ forward Rem Pitlick earlier in the period. This caused Brad Marchand to respond and the tone was set.
Greer and the rest of the Bruins are typically smarter than this and while it may be an isolated incident, it’s an important message that the team must be aware of with the playoffs right around the corner. The implications of losing their cool will be far more damaging come the postseason and it’s better that this type of lesson was learned now, rather than when the games truly count. Depth is so important and it can only be used as a commodity if the team puts itself in a position to capitalize on it, rather than falling behind the proverbial eight-ball.
“We talked about playing with emotion, which is great, but not getting emotional,” said head coach Jim Montgomery said following the game. “It’s something we can learn from in the playoffs because you can’t take those kinds of penalties in playoffs.”
The Bruins are one of the best-coached teams in the NHL under Montgomery, who is making an excellent second impression in the NHL amidst his first season in Boston. These types of incidents aren’t common under his watch and everything can be a lesson if angled correctly. It may seem optimistic to try and find a silver lining from this whole ordeal, but that’s what separates the good teams from the rest of the pack.