Haggerty: Bruins find their identity at right time

Haggerty: Bruins find their identity at right time
March 16, 2013, 7:45 pm
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The Bruins picked this weekend as the correct time to re-establish their identity, and that meant some bruises and bloody knuckles for the Washington Capitals.

The Bruins dropped the gloves for three fighting majors and dumped the Washington Capitals by a 4-1 score at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon. Each of the three fights was eventful in their own way, and underscored the Bruins desire to make a statement that they are once again ready to become a hockey club that’s very difficult to play against.

“That’s what our team is all about,” said Nathan Horton. “When we play like that style, we finish our checks. That’s how we know it’s a good game. That’s our style.”

It also allowed the buzzing, bruising Bruins to finally taste a bit of sweet revenge against a Washington club that snuffed out their playoff lives in a Game 7 on Garden ice last season. That wasn’t the case when the Bruins went out with a whimper in the third period at the nation’s capital last month, and they were determined not to repeat that hockey history.

“We kind of approach each game like a new game, but at the same time there’s a little bit that carried over from the playoffs last year and what happened our first game this year,” admitted Adam McQuaid, who brought the thunder down on Matt Hendricks in a third period tilt answering for his ambush of Nathan Horton at the end of the second period.  “We wanted a better game, and I thought we played with a little bit more emotion tonight.”

Facing the two teams in Washington and Pittsburgh this weekend that authored two of the more devastating losses handed out to Boston this year, it’s probably no surprise the Bruins decided now was the right time to bust out a can of nasty. It was the subject of discussions within the Bruins dressing room over the last couple of days, and spilled out onto the ice with flying fists, bloody gashes and airtight play on Saturday afternoon.

“It was much better without a doubt,” said Andrew Ference. “Mistakes still happen and this and that. But the way we reacted and the way we were between periods, we were just a much more focused group.

“We had some good chats and took a long look in the mirror, and realized that it wasn’t an overhaul of our whole game because we have been putting up points and winning. But it was a tightening of our game and guys really responded to that.”  

Here’s how each of the fisticuffs went down:
 
* With 19 seconds to go in the second period Mike Ribeiro was barking at the officials for what he felt was a missed penalty call, and it appeared Brad Marchand told him to keep his comments to himself. That resulted in skilled agitator-on-skilled agitator crime with Marchand and Ribeiro dropping the gloves for the Capitals forward’s first hockey since 1998 when he was still a youngster in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Marchand looked much better than he did in his first career fight against P.K. Subban and landed a series of uppercut punches to Ribeiro’s face before the fight ended shortly after Marchand ripped his helmet off the back of his head.
 
* Eight seconds later Nathan Horton and Matt Hendricks dropped the gloves, but this was the incident that really raised the ire of the Bruins dressing room. Horton was challenging Hendricks to a fight, and the Capitals forwards wasn’t looking or responding to the B’s right winger’s call. Then Hendricks basically charged Horton and started throwing punches at him before the Bruins forward had much of a chance to respond, and Horton’s forehead was cut open before he slammed the Wash forward down to the ice.

“I was yelling at him. Like three times I yelled at him and he didn’t look at me,” said Horton. Then he just sprinted at me. He kind of caught me with my gloves [down] there. Or maybe he did hear me. I just didn’t think he did because he wasn’t looking at me.”

Horton and Marchand spent their time in the penalty box in the third period yelling and pointing at Ribeiro and Hendricks in the Washington penalty box, and it was pretty clear things weren’t over from a Boston perspective.
 
* So the second fight led to the third and final bout with Shawn Thornton pursuing a fight with Hendricks from a face-off and through an entire shift in the third period, and finished with Adam McQuaid helping to corner the Washington forward like a rat against the side boards. Hendricks finally opted for Door No. 2 with McQuaid and absorbed a few strong rights to the chin before finally tumbling to the ice on top of the Bruins defenseman. Hendricks went from the penalty box to the dressing room with what appeared to be an issue with his right hand, and the Caps forward even gestured menacingly that he had his eyes on a loud Bruins fan in the stands before eventually walking down the runway.  
 
After the game, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner strangely compared Thornton and McQuaid’s actions with Hendricks to Washington potentially targeting Tyler Seguin for a brawl. Capitals head coach Adam Oates also felt that Boston’s actions were excessive for what should have been called for in that situation.

“I think that’s wrong. He clearly didn’t want to fight Thornton and [McQuaid] came over and made it a very, very difficult situation,” said Oates. “I think the referees could have handled it a little quicker.”

That’s one way of interpreting it. Another way to read it would be that Hendricks’ antics goading Bruins players before backing away from a fight before jumping on an unsuspecting Horton were begging for the answer he finally received from two of Boston’s true tough guys.

While Saturday afternoon’s game wasn’t as seminal as the wild brawl against the Dallas Stars five years ago or as bloody as the PIM fiesta against the Canadiens two seasons ago, it had the same kind of unifying feel to it. Bruins players were standing up for one another, protecting one another and playing as if their pugnacious reputations depended on the outcome.

On one side stood the desperate Capitals with a few last gasps before they surrender on their season, and on the other was a Bruins team with a punishing point to make.

“They’re fighting for their lives, trying to get themselves into a playoff spot, and we’re trying to better ourselves as a team,” said Claude Julien. “We certainly weren’t satisfied with our last outings, and we needed to be better. Again, desperation on their side made for a pretty emotional game.”

Good things seem to always happen for the Bruins when emotions and hard feelings get involved, and that was the case against the Capitals. Expect the hate to flow again on Sunday against the Penguins as Boston looks to hop on that extended roll that will take them through the rest of the season.