St. Louis Blues

The NHL could have — and should have — done more to punish Robert Bortuzzo, Blues

robert_bortuzzo_blues.jpg
AP Photo

The NHL could have — and should have — done more to punish Robert Bortuzzo, Blues

Remember when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and did so by bullying the Vancouver Canucks all over the ice in true Big Bad Bruins fashion?

What followed the following season was the Bruins landing in the top-5 in the NHL in PIMS (third to be exact) for the first time in the years leading up to and following the Cup win, and the B’s seemingly fighting an uphill battle when it came to benefit of the doubt with the referees on borderline calls on the ice.

The Bruins were viewed as aggressors and 50/50 penalty calls almost never went their way, with on-ice officials assuming the worst for a team that had bulled the poor Sedin Twins, and terrorized the finesse Canucks end-to-end over the course of the seven-game series. This preconceived idea about the Black and Gold seemed to run all the way through the 2013-14 NHL season when it hit a crescendo as the league slapped Shawn Thornton with an incredibly draconian 15-game suspension after he jumped noted cheap shot opportunist Brooks Orpik.

It was basically the beginning of the end for the Bruins as schoolyard bullies in the NHL and helped force a transformation into the skilled, multi-faced group that returned to last spring’s Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues/Bruins Cup Final was the Bruins/Canucks matchup in reverse with the Blues hammering the Bruins over the course of a seven-game series, and ultimately winning in Game 7 with full credit for their gritty, punishing style of play.  

Ah yes, the Blues.

That’s actually the point of this entire thread of thought, though.

It’s admirable that the NHL suspended Robert Bortuzzo four games for his cheap, dangerous and reckless cross-check attack of Viktor Arvidsson that injured the Predators forward, and will leave him out of the Nashville lineup for the next 4-6 weeks.

“Bortuzzo’s second cross-check is not a hockey play,” said the NHL Department of Player Safety narration in the suspension video, noting the injury and Bortuzzo as a repeat offender both with suspensions and dirty cross-checks. “This is a forceful cross-check delivered well away from the puck delivered on a vulnerable opponent for no other reason other than frustration.”

There’s no doubt that the injury factored into the ultimate punishment for Bortuzzo, but the league’s Department of Player Safety could have gone further against the Blues. The nasty, two-handed shot to the lower back of a player already down on the ice is exactly the kind of play where the NHL could have made an example of the St. Louis style of play, but stopped well short of doing it.

Just like the on-ice officials should be going a little further than turning a blind eye to a physical, envelope-pushing Blues team that somehow ranks just 24th in the NHL with a paltry 168 penalty minutes despite employing hatchet men like Bortuzzo, Oskar Sundqvist, Sammy Blais and Ivan Barbashev among others on their NHL roster. After all, we’re talking about a team that set an ignominious record as being the only Stanley Cup winner to have two players suspended for their actions during the Stanley Cup Final series.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that physical, heavy and punishing play should be rewarded in the playoffs as it ultimately played out for the Blues last season. But Saturday’s cross-check assault by Bortuzzo — and then unbelievably Jordan Binnington — on Arvidsson put on clear display that the Blues are trying to mug teams during the regular season as well.

It’s high time that the league began making an example out of the Blues by treating them just as they did with the Bruins a handful of years ago. The only thing that forced the Bruins to change was making them guilty before being proven innocent when it came to penalties, and taking away any benefit of the doubt on the ice on borderline plays.

That means more penalties and bolder suspensions for a Blues team that certainly isn’t playing the kind of sweetheart hockey that sees them ranked 24th in the entire NHL in PIMs this season, and holding them accountable for a lot of what, frankly, has brought them great success for the last couple of seasons.  

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Tom Brady uses Blues beating Bruins as warning against Patriots' complacency

Tom Brady uses Blues beating Bruins as warning against Patriots' complacency

Tom Brady made a valid point Thursday night during his interview with Jim Gray on Westwood One.

He also re-opened a sore wound for Boston Bruins fans.

Brady was explaining how the New England Patriots can't rest on their laurels despite entering the bye week as the AFC's No. 1 seed at 8-1.

To make his point, he referenced two recent teams that struggled in the first half of the season but rallied to win their league's championship.

"Look at the NHL season and look where the St. Louis Blues were at halfway through their season: close to the bottom," Brady told Gray. "If you look at Major League Baseball: Look at where the (Washington) Nationals were two months into the season. They were close to the bottom, too."

The Blues capped off their historic season at the Bruins' expense, beating Boston in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. The Nationals upset the favored Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series.

Brady's message: If the Patriots don't keep their foot on the gas, they could be the 2019 Bruins or Astros.

"Championship football, this is when it starts to get played," Brady said. " ... This is when the hard work, this is when the mental toughness really starts to play itself out."

" ... If you’re a marathon runner, it’s not how you run the first 13 miles. That’s when everyone’s relatively fresh, relatively hopeful. It’s now the back half that’s really the most important.

"This is where you either migrate toward the pack or separate from the pack. And if you’re going to be a winning team, this is where you really have to start to prove it and show it."

New England will endure its own version of the Boston Marathon's "Heartbreak Hill" coming out of the bye week, with matchups against playoff hopefuls like the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.

But Brady sounds up for the challenge.

"If you’re a real true professional, this is when you bear down," he added. "This is when it matters most."

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Bruins play near flawless game in shutting down Blues, and it begs the question: 'Where was this in Game 7?'

Bruins play near flawless game in shutting down Blues, and it begs the question: 'Where was this in Game 7?'

BOSTON – Nobody would blame Bruins fans if they watched Saturday night’s shutout win over the St. Louis Blues, and wondered where this B’s team was when it really mattered most four months ago during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on the very same TD Garden home ice.

The B’s showed physicality and toughness, they played flawless defense and paid keen attention to detail and had their top scorers and weapons do damage as well in the 3-0 win over the Blues at TD Garden. It raised the Bruins to 7-1-2 on the season and allowed the Bruins to get some small measure of payback for the bitter Game 7 loss last June, but it also shows exactly how uncharacteristic that big game defeat was for the Black and Gold at the end of the last postseason.

“Unless they brought the Cup here for this game I don’t think it has anything to do with [the Stanley Cup Final],” said Tuukka Rask, after making 26 saves in his second shutout of the season while leading the NHL in both goals against average (1.48) and save percentage (.952). “It’s a different year and different teams. But it was two good teams and a great Saturday night game.”

There’s no doubt the Bruins were very close to their best in this particular late October game against a Western Conference opponent. David Pastrnak rifled home a one-timer from his customary spot at the face-off circle that went through Jordan Binnington’s pads, and now leads the NHL with 11 goals on the season, and scores in five straight games.

It all makes one wonder how much of a difference maker the electric 23-year-old could have been had his injured thumb not been bothering him last spring during the playoffs. It was clear watching Pastrnak hesitate and whiff on one-timers in the Stanley Cup Final that he wasn’t feeling himself, and was never at his best against a Blues team that also pounded him physically.

His final stat line for the seven game series: Two goals, four points and a gruesome minus-7 in the Stanley Cup Final vs. St. Louis. It almost defies belief that it’s the same Pastrnak we see right now on a clear revenge tour across the NHL.

Anders Bjork added some insurance offense a little later in the second period after he wasn’t an option during last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs once he had succumbed to a second season-ending shoulder surgery.

Then there was the power play itself, which got four chances and scored on their first possession to set the tone in the game. That was a clear difference than many of the games in the Stanley Cup Final where penalties weren’t called after Blues head coach Craig Berube whined and complained about unfair treatment from the on-ice officials.

There was also Rask, who wasn’t his dominant self in that Game 7 against the Blues when he was outplayed by Binnington and gave up a couple of goals in the first period to effectively help sink the B’s on home ice. On this night he stopped all 26 shots in front of him and played behind a Bruins team playing crisp, mistake-free defense where there weren’t any major gaffes like the one that led to St. Louis goal at the end of the first period in Game 7.

It was a game where the Bruins clearly wanted the result and they got it.

“[Early in the game] it felt like we were back in the playoffs. Good, solid, clean hits and I think as the game went on, it became your typical hockey game. We got the lead, started well, had some good looks early, kept them out of our end, didn’t give up much, and that’s important with St. Louis,” said Cassidy, after watching the exact opposite of what played out in the middle of June’s Game 7 with everything on the line. “I think if you can force them to chase the game a little bit, you’re much better off.

“That’s a general statement, but most teams will play better with the lead, but some teams are really good with the lead, and I think we’re one of them. I think St. Louis is that type of teams that’s just built to play better with the lead than to have to come from behind.”

There was also the physicality. After the Blues pushed and cheap-shotted the Bruins all over the ice in the brutal Stanley Cup Final, the B’s clearly wanted to answer and they did to a degree with Zdeno Chara green-lighting Oskar Sundqvist with a massive hit at the blue line on the very first shift of the game. It was a clean hit to the player that threw one of the dirtiest hits in Stanley Cup Final history when he ran Matt Grzelcyk from behind during last June’s playoff series.

It also clearly didn’t stop Sundqvist from running around as he boarded Connor Clifton later in the game and threw four heavy hits following the punishment from the Bruins captain. That’s a story for another day as there is still some levels of toughness that this current Bruins team doesn’t quite hit while letting players get away with cheap shots against them.

But good for 42-year-old Chara for trying to set the tone early in the game while knowing full well that the Blues got the better of them physically last season.

“We want to play a strong game. Obviously, the hit was there and I took it,” said Chara. “I think it’s important that you play physical throughout the year in certain situations. When those opportunities are there you’ve got to take them.

“We know who we were playing. We wanted to come out strong and have a good performance. I thought we did. We played well and we deserved those two points.”

The Bruins absolutely did deserve those two points on Saturday night as they played an excellent game against the Blues in pretty much every facet. It was a feel-good story on that particular day. But it all also underscored just how epically things went wrong for the Black and Gold in a playoff game little more than four months ago against the same Blues team with everything hanging in the balance for the Bruins.

That’s a bitterness for Bruins fans, players, coaches, management and ownership that wasn’t going to be assuaged by Saturday night’s Stanley Cup Final “rematch” no matter what happened on the ice.

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