Bruins Thrive Through ‘War of Words’

In a matter of five seconds and with just 22 words, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky may very well have provided the Boston Bruins with the push needed to go all the way.

Following Columbus’ 3-2 double-overtime victory on Saturday evening at TD Garden in Boston, which evened the teams’ Eastern Conference Semifinal 1-1, the 11-year NHL veteran took a shot at the home crowd, which he clearly doesn’t feel compares to those at Nationwide Arena.

Facts are facts, I suppose. Columbus, even in a non-traditional hockey market, does rank first in capacity percentage (106.2 percent in five home playoff games), while Boston currently sits 10th (100 percent). Lest we forget the regular season, where Nationwide Arena finished towards the bottom at 24th (91.8 percent) while TD Garden was eighth, filling to capacity each night.

The war of words bodes well for the Bruins who thrive under the “Don’t Poke The Bear” mentality. Dubinsky’s questionable comment got me thinking about similar situations from the recent past, where Boston faced scrutiny through an opposing organization, player, etc. Here’s a look back on some of my personal favorites and how the Black & Gold responded.

Canadiens Call the Cops on Chara

When and where better to start than March 8, 2011 at the Bell Centre, the scene of a truly horrific ‘crime.’ With the Montreal Canadiens leading 4-0, late in the second period, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara initiated contact with then 22-year-old Max Pacioretty halfway along Boston’s bench. The follow through by the 6-foot-9 defenseman carried Pacioretty into the stanchion separating the teams’ benches.

The result wasn’t pretty. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture to the fourth cervical vertebrae in his neck. Much to the collective ire of the victim, the organization, and the city as a whole, Chara was not suspended following his game misconduct for interference. In response, the Montreal police resorted to the extreme, opening an actual real-life investigation.

To no one’s surprise, Chara beat the case, albeit the final verdict not being announced until November. In between, the Bruins demolished Montreal 7-0 in the teams’ regular-season finale before Boston eliminated the Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Chara was, most fittingly, the first Bruin to lift the trophy.

Roberto Luongo vs. Tim Thomas

Speaking of the 2011 Cup Final, it was one played under no shortage of contentious storylines. Beginning with Games 1 and 3, the respective antics of fellow Vancouver Canucks Alexandre Burrows, Maxim Lapierre, and Aaron Rome helped set the stage for Roberto Luongo. The outspoken goaltender used Game 5 as his personal platform.

Vancouver prevailed 1-0 to take a 3-2 series lead, with the game’s lone goal coming early in the third period. On the play, defenseman Kevin Bieksa fired a shot, intentionally wide, from the point. The perfectly-placed ricochet found the waiting stick of Lapierre, whose follow-up chance beat Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who was aggressively out to challenge the initial shot.

Former Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas silenced his critics, including Vancouver Canucks counterpart Roberto Luongo, by winning the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies in 2010-11. (The Hockey Writers)

Luongo, an All-Star and Vezina Trophy candidate, along with his counterpart, was critical of Thomas’ unorthodox style of play. He insisted that Lapierre’s finish “would have been an easy save” for him. A day later, he attempted to backtrack, instead adding even more fuel to the fire.

I said also that he might make some saves that I don’t, so I was just saying on that particular play I would have played it different and that’s the difference between me and him. I’ve been pumping his tires ever since the series started and I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me, so that’s the way it is.

The ever-charismatic Thomas responded shortly thereafter, effectively ending the petty feud. Perhaps not satisfied, the 36-year-old went on to win not only the Stanley Cup, but the Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies, beating out Luongo for each of them.

Ryan Miller vs. Milan Lucic

The following season, right around the time Chara was acquitted of all charges, beloved ex-Bruin Milan Lucic stirred up a little controversy of his own. With Boston trailing the visiting Buffalo Sabres 1-0 late in the first period, the hulking left-wing was chasing down a loose puck in the left circle when goaltender Ryan Miller came out to make a play.

Lucic, never one to avoid contact, went straight through Miller who, in turn, took a full swing at his offender as he spiraled down to the ice. A few Sabres cautiously engaged with Lucic, but no gloves were shed, not at all surprising given his pedigree as a pugilist. The hit took its toll on Miller, who surrendered three goals in the second period before being pulled. The Bruins would go on to win 6-2.

Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller exchanges words with former Bruins forward Milan Lucic after a controversial collision on Nov. 12, 2011. (Greg M. Cooper/US PRESSWIRE)

Miller made a point of sticking around the Sabres’ locker room after the game, to tell the media exactly what he thought of Lucic.

I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a piece of [expletive] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It’s unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of [expletive].

When the teams met again 11 nights later, veteran Paul Gaustad drew the unfortunate assignment of challenging Lucic. It took all of 1:23 into the first period for the gloves to drop, and when they did, Lucic feasted on his over-matched opponent. Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta tried his luck the next time the teams met, suffering an even worse fate. Lucic was left alone for the rest of the season series.

Each of these incidents took place throughout what proved to be a Golden Age in Bruins history. Whether Dubinsky realizes it or not, he may have just helped Boston begin a new era of greatness.