Nick Ritchie blasted Yanni Gourde with a late, punishing hit in the second period of Game 4 on Saturday that earned the plodding Bruins winger a five-minute major for boarding.
Ritchie's hit was roundly criticized on the NBC broadcast in the studio between periods and had TV analysts, media and Bruins fans alike calling for Ritchie to be benched for the rest of the game. It was a clearly dirty, ill-advised hit that also led to the Tampa Bay Lightning's crushing third goal in a 3-1 drubbing of the Bruins in Game 4 in the Toronto bubble.
Ritchie hit Gourde long after he had released the puck, and the impact far away from the boards slammed the Tampa Bay forward awkwardly into the sideboards after the collision. Gourde was able to finish out the game with no injury, and the Bruins winger said postgame he was simply doing his job and finishing his check with some playoff-level emphasis.
“I had no intent to put a guy on the ice and injure anybody. I was just finishing my hit, thought I did a good job keeping my arms down and it was shoulder to shoulder,” said Ritchie. “Maybe he wasn’t expecting it [after] he just got rid of the puck. I’m just playing my game and that’s part of it, sometimes stuff like that happens.”
Normally head coach Bruce Cassidy has an even-tempered response postgame to incidents like this, but it sure sounded like he believes the B’s got the short end of the stick.
Perhaps Cassidy is in desperation mode now down 3-1 in a series to Tampa Bay again with little hope of coming back, and backed his power forward’s transgression while chiding Gourde for acting his way into a bigger penalty for the Bruins. This wasn’t the usual Cassidy assessment of things postgame, but perhaps the B’s coach realizes that the same old, same old isn’t working for the Bruins against a deeper, more talented Lightning group.
Or perhaps Cassidy is watching coaches like Craig Berube and Jon Cooper work the officials against the Bruins in playoff series with whining and lobbying, and he’s doing something that he thinks might work for the Black and Gold. Either way it sounds like Cassidy thinks the Bruins got screwed with the five minute major call.
“There was no [penalty] call, and then it turned into a five-minute major. I’m not sure, I guess we’ll get an explanation or we won’t, I don’t know, I didn’t get one of why that changed. Clearly Gourde was down on the play, he’s a good player, a real good player for them, clever obviously, got them on the power play for five minutes,” said Cassidy.
“He finished the game and had no problems in the third period. I didn’t agree with the call. As I said, [Karson] Kuhlman got hit by [Cedric] Paquette late in the first period. [It was] a very, very, very, very, very similar hit, no call. But I guess we’ll ask that question [and] find out what the thinking was.”
Cassidy was referencing a shoulder-to-shoulder hit against the end boards in the first period when Paquette slammed into Kuhlman, and then Ritchie put the Bruins shorthanded for a couple of minutes by jumping a player in Paquette who's never going to answer the bell. Some of the characteristics of the hit were similar, but the Ritchie was definitely later and further away from the boards making it a more reckless action.
Again, Cassidy didn’t see it that way.
“He’s finishing a check, it happens all the time. [Ritchie] played through a player’s shoulder as I saw it. Shoulder to shoulder…hard. I don’t know if the explanation was it was late or if it was a 225-pound man hitting a 170-pound man and that’s why the penalty is called," said Cassidy.
"I thought Paquette did the same thing, if not worse, to Kuhlman in the first period. The standard is set, that’s what officials do, they set the standard and the players adjust to it and adapt to it game in and game out. I thought [Ritchie] did a good job. That’s what he’s asked to do: Be hard on people, stick up for your teammates, go to the net, score dirty goals, make plays off the wall and all those things.
“So that hit was part of the job description and he did it. They reversed the call and at the end of the day, it went against us. We want Ritch to be physical, not reckless, and that’s what we thought it was, but it didn’t work out that way.”
It bears watching to see if any of Cassidy’s comments have an impact on how Game 5 is called on Monday night with Boston’s back up against the wall, and a clear need for desperation and urgency out of his Bruins team.