When you think of the Boston Bruins your first thought should probably be Bobby Orr, but for most people in this current generation, it's likely to be the brand of the team. A "tough, take no prisoners" team, with "blue collar players that stand up for each other". The Joe Haggertys of the world never shut up about it. Tyler Seguin was traded, we're led to believe, because he didn't fit that culture.
In many ways that's a great success on the part of Bruins management and marketing. They've fostered a team-first attitude that holds strong with the fanbase and in the locker room, and that culture is likely right up there with employing good players in why they've found so much success lately. However it also has some negative impact, and not just on their own games, but on how hockey is represented to the general public.
The Bruins are constantly at the center of games that get out of control, and in spite of employing two of the most intimidating players in the NHL in Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, along with a dedicated fighter in Shawn Thornton, they're subject to a ton of cheap shots.
Patrice Bergeron has been the victim of more than just Randy Jones, with multiple concussions, among other injuries. Marc Savard's career was ended with cheap shots that occurred while several of those tough guys were on the ice. Nathan Horton's career was derailed for half a year with concussion issues. Now Loui Eriksson is out with his second concussion of the year due to a "clean" hit, Chris Kelly had his fibula broken by a slash, and Brad Marchand is lucky to be okay after a knee to the head. And these are just the high profile ones.
The truth is that the Boston Bruins play a dangerous game. Their "blue collar" mentality isn't necessarily about playing tough, so much as getting revenge for every perceived slight. This mentality exists in the NHL as a whole, so it's not like the Bruins are unique, but they are the worst for it. It carried from the locker room, to the coaching staff, to management, to the homer media, to their fans. Everyone else is a diver, and if you hit a Bruin, you have to "back it up" and fight.
You can't lay a clean, devastating hit on a Bruin without being mugged. No, not just challenged to a fight, mugged. Multiple black and yellow jerseys will buzz around the hitter like bees, pushing and shoving, grabbing players from behind by the neck or head, putting them in headlocks; the scrum is a Bruins specialty, more so than fighting is, though there will be fights.
But the trouble with this style is that it wears thin. And even if the Bruins didn't employ professional cheap shot artists like Brad Marchand, that revenge culture catches up to you.
Kristian Limas of Stanley Cup of Chowder wrote an excellent article today on the NHL's culture of revenge, and I think he gets to the core of what causes events like Saturday night, though he didn't touch specifically on why the Bruins are so often in the middle of it.
"Bruins culture" gets old quickly for opponents, and when you can't play hockey without constantly being mugged after the whistle, challenged to fight by goons and giants, or taking a cheap shot from a Marchand or a Johnny "king of knee on knees" Boychuk, you retaliate. And if you've already experienced playing the Bruins recently, like the Penguins had in the playoffs, maybe you start pre-emptively playing on the edge.
You see, playing tough isn't the way Boston plays, they're trying to play intimidating. Playing tough is taking the abuse and fighting through it to win hockey games. Boston's version of tough doesn't prevent teams from coming back at them like defenders of fighting and Bruins fans like to pretend, it just escalates it.
In no way am I saying that cheap shots against the Bruins are okay or justified, they need to be taken out of the game whether they're hurting teams you love or hate, but the Bruins absolutely bring it on themselves.
You play in the mud, you have to be prepared to get dirty.
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