BOSTON -- So what to take from a Stanley Cup rematch between the Bruins and Canucks that more than lived up to the hype?
Above and beyond the penalties, the entire Canucks team attacking Shawn Thornton and the eventual 4-3 Bruins loss to Vancouver at the TD Garden, there was the simple, gloriously entertaining product on the ice. Whether in a one-game regular season meeting or a seven game bloodbath of a playoff series, the two teams hate each other and come from opposite ends of the hockey spectrum.
Its only the most vitriolic hockey enemies that spear their opponents in the neck with the blade of their stick as Alex Burrows did in going after Shawn Thornton. Only in true rivalry games where hatred and past history intersect do you see players like Nathan Horton and Dale Weise throwing honest to goodness punching bombs designed to bring the pain.
Lets be honest: only in such a fever pitch hockey environment would Maxim Lapierre drop the gloves under any circumstances, even if it was a glorified hugging contest with Gregory Campbell.
All that along with 30 penalty calls for 107 penalty minutes along with two game misconducts and a rarely-seen clipping penalty screamed two hockey clubs searching for any hidden edge that could lead them to victory. That they go about this victory journey with polar opposite methodology only makes it all the more interesting.
We knew it would be that kind of game, its just the way it is between these two teams, said Zdeno Chara matter-of-factly. Nothing surprising.
The Bruins play a gritty, physical game relying on depth, strength on the puck, discipline and elite goaltending to get their desired result while the Canucks parlay their speed, skill and craftiness into power play chances and offensive production. The Bruins want things to play out 5-on-5 and the Canucks will do anything flop, dive, goad or take rabbit punches to get the calls that make special teams a factor. Essentially everything is the same for both teams dating back to last years Finals, and that goes all the way out to Roberto Luongo essentially skipping out on a chance to vanquish the hockey demons haunting him in Boston.
It makes for the perfect match of hockey opposites.
I thought we were ready to play, and when we played five-on-five we were a good team. We had some power plays, but we didnt score. So we gave them four power play goals and our power play didnt score, said Claude Julien. It doesnt matter what you ask me; I dont think were going to point the finger at the other team because they didnt do anything wrong.
They played the game they way they feel they have to play it, and they scored some power play goals. They did the right things. We didnt do enough to win the hockey game. Lets be man enough to admit it and move on.
Never was that more apparent than the turning point in the game: Brad Marchand was called for a five minute major and game misconduct in the second period for upending Sami Salo as the Vancouver defenseman took a run at the Bs agitator. Salo flipped over and suffered an upper body injury on the violent play thats likely to close Marchand a few game checks, and the Canucks scored two of their four power play goals on the day during the next five minutes.
One team scored three five-on-five goals and played the physical brand of hockey while the other waited for power plays to get their game-winning goal on a Cody Hodgson strike in the final period. The ultimate irony on Hodgson: he was also the player on the Vancouver bench holding Shawn Thornton down while six of his Canucks teammates attempted to work over the Bs enforcer.
It was a profile in Canucks courage to have six players attacking one single man in a Bs uniform undoubtedly, and also a clear message that the Gingerbread Twins and their band of merry Vancouver men need the referees in order to triumph.
We were really coming back there in the second period. I thought we were going to take the game over because five on five we dominated the play, said Tim Thomas, But then they got the penalty and -- whether you agree with the calls or not -- they were a huge factor in the way the game turned out.
You could call the Canucks soft and the Bruins hardened pieces of coal, and not many would bat an eyelash. Perhaps thats even true when you slap together a goaltending matchup between Luongo the Lame otherwise known as the goalie that didnt wan to play and the ultimate competitor in Thomas.
But its not that black and white when it comes down to being on the right or wrong side of the rivalry. Cody Hodgson had himself a whale of a game for the Canucks with the game-winning goal, and managed to keep out of the almost entirely aside from his bear hug on Thornton from the Vancouver bench. Campbell stepped up to play 15 minutes with Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand out of the game, and stepped in to fight Lapierre after his gutless cannon-ball into the Thornton scrum to start the game.
There were players like Cory Schneider operating their highest levels of efficiency as he did in front of his Marblehead friends and family while stopping 36 Bruins shots in the win.
Those players draped themselves in glory in a regular season preview that could make way for another Finals showdown between the two clubs if everybody is lucky. Then there was Dale Weise nodding and waggling his gloves to fight at puck drop before back-pedaling with the hip fluidity of an NFL defensive back.
Each of the 60-minute games incidents might have made for an interesting sidelight in a humdrum regular season game on the NHL schedule, but put together they conjure up the kind of passionate enmity that makes for the best kind of playoff hockey games.
One can only hope the Bruins and Canucks find themselves in their familiar dance of contempt once the Stanley Cup Finals begin during the month of June. Hockey lovers everywhere will be the big winners in a budding rivalry that has everything it takes to become great over the next few seasons.