BRIGHTON, Mass. – For a Bruins team that’s enjoyed a pretty good go of things over the past few months, the re-entry coming out of NHL All-Star weekend was a little rougher than expected.
The Bruins were beaten on the scoreboard, 3-1, by the Anaheim Ducks thanks to a rough first period and an excellent performance between the pipes from the Ducks’ John Gibson before a lower-body injury forced him out of the game in the third period. But they were also beaten and bullied all over the ice by a strong, heavy outfit that came into the game looking to hit first and ask questions later.
“I thought they did a good job of coming out and punching us in the mouth metaphorically speaking. There were times that it seemed like they were hitting us and we weren’t hitting back. We’ve got to focus on ourselves and make sure that we’re using our legs,” said Torey Krug. “It’s pretty clear that they are a bigger team and that’s the style of play they want to be but if we come out and use our legs to check, then we can be more effective.”
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Certainly, it looked like the Ducks were leaning on the Bruins early and often, outshooting them 15-5 in the first period while a Francois Beauchemin cross-check to the left arm of Anders Bjork knocked Bjork out of the game. There was a mild response from David Backes to that hit, but no real reaction at the end of the first period when Josh Manson basically punched Danton Heinen in the face as he separated him from the puck.
Once the Ducks were up 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes the Bruins got a little hungrier, adjusted to Anaheim’s heavy attack and began to get a little traction in the latter 40 minutes. But they never really pushed back at an Anaheim team bullying them on the ice and Nick Ritchie made a point of showing that when he clobbered David Backes with a late, high hit in the waning minutes of the third period.
Once again, there was some pushing and shoving afterward and Zdeno Chara finally responded by clocking Adam Henrique and nearly fighting Ryan Getzlaf with just a couple of minutes to go in the game. Still, by that point, the Bruins were already down two players and down on the scoreboard, effectively both getting beaten on the ice and beaten up by a determined Anaheim crew.
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“Nobody wants to see your teammate being carried off the ice,” said Chara, when asked if he was sending a message with the late hit that led to penalties on Boston’s captain and Anaheim’s captain for scuffling. “This part of the season everybody’s really playing desperate hockey; they’re chasing every point for either a better position into the playoffs or trying to get to the playoffs.
“We’ve got to realize that every team we’re going to play, they’re going to fight for their lives. We’ve got to match that intensity – the emotional part of the game – and make sure that we are ready to play from the first puck drop and not waiting for the other team to set in play and then we respond. We’ve just got to be more engaged right from the start.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, Backes practiced on Wednesday and is going to be okay after the high, late hit from Ritchie after spending the last few minutes of the third period in the Quiet Room. Bjork, on the other hand, is going to be out for a bit and the Bruins are already down one heavy player with Noel Acciari out as well.
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There were no penalties called on either play, which is certainly eyebrow-raising given the injuries in such a physical game. But simply relying on the officials to police things on the ice isn’t what hard-to-play-against hockey teams do.
Nobody is expecting the Big, Bad Bruins of old with this group, and the days of truly slugging it out with a heavy, hard-hitting opponent are a thing of the past as well. But the loss to the Ducks should be a good reminder to a largely young group of Bruins that the intensity is going to pick up in the final few months of the season. As easy as they made things look in December and most of January while ringing up points in 18 consecutive games, it’s going to take equal parts toughness, emotion and hard-nosed tenacity to go along with their speed/skill combo if they want to truly compete in a playoff-style atmosphere.
Everyone in the Bruins dressing room should assume they’re going to get smacked with the other team’s best punch over the final two months of the season and they need to be much better prepared than they were versus the Ducks. Certainly, they got a little more locked in as the game went along and the chances were there even if the finish was not, but the bottom line is that they mostly got pushed around by big, strong Anaheim group.
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“I thought the last 40 minutes they had a tougher time dealing with us than we did with them,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Now, they are protecting a lead, so the natural thing to do is to make sure you don’t get exposed. But I thought we certainly got better. It’s a good test for us. We haven’t seen as many of those as we did early on in the year.
“I thought we handled it well in LA and San Jose and some of those buildings, so we’ve just got to get re-acclimated with it. I think we did as the game went on. [Thursday night against] St. Louis will be more of that, so ask me again [after that game] how we handle it. I suspect we’ll be better prepared for it.”
One would certainly hope so as the Bruins will be facing desperate, hungry teams for the balance of the season, and they simply need to be better prepared to “get punched in the face, metaphorically speaking” as Krug said after the game.