At certain times in an NHL hockey season, the moment becomes more important to a hockey team than the two points that they are fighting for on the ice.
Tuesday night in Columbus was one of those moments for the Boston Bruins, when the Blue Jackets took out All-Star goaltender Tuukka Rask less than two minutes into the game with a butt-end punch to the side of his head from Swedish winger Emil Bemstrom.
Rask was done for the night at that point in an eventual 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets and is now lost to the Bruins with a concussion almost a year to the day after he was similarly knocked out last season by a Rangers player crashing the net.
In both instances, the Bruins did virtually nothing in response to their goalie getting targeted, and it’s continuing an alarming trend for the last few seasons that’s seen the Big Bad Bruins become the Teddy Bear Bruins.
It was the case when they were outmuscled and beaten up by an old school St. Louis Blues team during the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s been the case this season in almost every instance when they’ve been pushed around and targeted by bigger, stronger opponents.
Just as Bruins players stood and watched as the Capitals took runs at them a couple of days before Christmas last month, they waited an entire period to meekly respond to their goalie getting wiped out this time around.
Sure, Brandon Carlo eventually challenged Bemstrom in the second period and so did Torey Krug, and Joakim Nordstrom finally got in his face before the on-ice scuffle earned matching minor penalties. At that point, it seemed like the Bruins felt like they’d done enough to avenge their fallen goalie and went through the motions of getting shut out for the first time this season.
Now you’ll hear the usual excuses made for the Bruins. They were more worried about the scoreboard than getting even, and it’s not the old NHL anymore where you can just grab somebody and start throwing punches.
"Should our guys have had a better response? I think there could have been,” said Bruce Cassidy to reporters following the loss. “It was pointed out after the first period, that our goaltender got bumped. But listen, it's a little late then, you can't take the law into your own hands."
Well, you can actually still do that as Zack Kassian proved with Matthew Tkachuk a couple of days ago.
Sure, there might be a price to be paid in terms of a suspension or penalties, but sometimes making a statement that you can’t take liberties with the Bruins is more important than any of that other stuff.
Eventually if teams are allowed to come after Rask, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and others without any price to be paid, those players are going to be either injured or ineffective while hoping that the referees or the NHL is going to protect them.
Turning the cheek and waiting for power plays or suspensions isn’t working for the Bruins, and it isn’t going to help them get their No. 1 goalie back as the concussions begin to stack up for Rask on the back half of his career.
Even if Bemstrom wouldn’t drop the gloves last night, that shouldn’t have stopped the Bruins from challenging other Blue Jackets players or getting in the face of Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins as he was in the process of posting a shutout.
The Blue Jackets goaltender never felt uncomfortable even once while making his 34 saves in the shutout win, and that’s as unforgivable as failing to protect their own goaltender.
So don’t buy the excuses from the Bruins when they talk defensively about the lack of response on Tuesday night. People that truly know and love the game of hockey know much better than that and they do too.
Instead, demand better from a Bruins team that used to fight for each other, refusing to allow their players to be targets without fighting back.
It’s either time to trade for a tough guy on another NHL team like Kyle Clifford in the last year of his contract with the Los Angeles Kings, or promote their own as 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic leads the AHL with over 100 penalty minutes this season. He’s shown the sandpaper and tough guy attitude this season in Providence that the Bruins are lacking at the NHL level, and perhaps he’ll do what Brett Ritchie has continuously failed to do this season with opportunities to show he’s going to stand up for his teammates.
People might say that Frederic isn’t ready to be that guy for the Bruins at 21 years old, but Milan Lucic was 21 years old when he scored 17 goals and racked up 136 penalty minutes while helping give the Bruins a swagger and toughness they are sorely missing these days.
Whatever they decide to do, it’s clear that what they currently have on their NHL roster isn’t tough enough to get them where they need to be. They need teams to be a little more wary of messing with them as it’s clear nobody is afraid to mess with a Bruins team that falsely believes that their existing team toughness is enough.
The bottom line with this Bruins team? The B’s are never going to win a Stanley Cup as long as they play soft when challenged on the ice, and they have continuously done that against bigger, stronger teams like Washington and St. Louis that have actually won the Cup in the last couple of seasons.
It’s unrealistic to think it will ever again be like it was in 2011 when seemingly half of the Bruins roster could handle themselves in a fight, or that they will be another incarnation of the Big Bad Bruins given the direction of the league.
But if they can’t stand up for their No. 1 goalie when he’s knocked out of the game with a punch to the face, they are the very definition of a soft hockey team in need of a toughness infusion.