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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