By Mike from Attleboro
Last night, at the Garden, the Boston Bruins lost to Montreal in a pitched battle where first place in the Eastern Conference awaited the victor. What they gained in that loss however, may prove to be more valuable going forward. Zdeno Chara’s defense of Tyler Seguin not only provides a galvanizing bond that will strengthen this teams resolve going forward, it also sends a message that these Bruins will not let one of their own be victimized without reprisal.
It’s been almost three years since the Bruins learned the price for passivity. On March 7th, 2010 Boston had no immediate on ice response when Marc Savard, their franchise center, had his career ended at the tip of Matt Cooke’s elbow. A team that was scrapping for every point it could get as it fought for a playoff spot, stood around dumbstruck, without rage or rancor, and watched as their brethren was strapped to a backboard and carried off the ice. It ultimately dropped that game to the Penguins and were ridiculed far and wide for their failure to defend their own in the days leading up to the rematch. As we saw again last year with the Buffalo Sabres, a team that chooses not to stand up for its own is doomed in the NHL. They either rot away from within as Buffalo did, consumed with doubt and infighting, or they fall prey to the rest of the league as the perception of weakness emboldens further predatory play. The latter was the fate that those Bruins succumbed to. Their tepid, staged response to Matt Cooke’s actions did nothing to dissuade Flyers Captain Mike Richards from unleashing a devastating and injurious check that ended David Krejci’s post season and set the stage for a historic Bruins playoff collapse.
Last night, when Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin broke his stick crosschecking Savard’s heir apparent, Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara immediately and violently intervened. In an instant, the Bruins Captain made it abundantly clear that he would not allow the mistakes of 2010 to be repeated again. This is a Bruins team that will no longer wait for supplemental discipline to settle it’s on-ice tabs. If someone wants to take liberties with this Bruins team, they should be prepared for a swift, emphatic response.
Now there are some Bruins fans who have a problem with Chara’s actions, because they very well may have cost his team the game. While Chara waited as the 17 minutes of penalties he earned ticked down, the Canadiens scored twice to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. If Chara didn’t corner Emelin and force him to pay for his crosscheck, he may have been on the ice to prevent the Habs from taking the lead. But being the elite defensive blue-liner in the NHL is only part of what Chara brings to a team. At 6’9” 260lbs, Big Z is also what amounts to the on ice version of nuclear deterrent. And while Chara’s greatest benefit is on the ice, sometimes an example needs to be made. A weapon unused is a useless weapon, and last night, the biggest weapon in the Bruins arsenal was as potent as ever as Chara sent crystal clear five knuckle messages all over Alexi Emelins surgically reconstructed face. If Emelin doesn’t want to enroll in his plastic surgeons frequent fracture club, he would be wise not to use his stick outside of legal parameters going forward. If anyone else on the Canadiens, or on another team in the league, wants to cravenly attempt to inflict damage on members of the Bruins, there will be a large, angry merciless, Slovakian answer. That is the kind of message that is worth infinitely more than 17 penalty minutes, 2 points in the standings and a temporary perch atop the conference.
Sending the correct message is also why the Bruins' captain did not engage Buffalo traffic cone and accidental skater John Scott. If Chara fought Scott after the Sabres sideshow delivered a one-sided beat down to Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, it would encourage escalation in an attempt to take one of the Bruins best players off the ice. Thornton is a consummate professional who can handle his business 99.9% of the time he’s on the ice and doesn’t need Chara cleaning up after him.
The only real disappointing part of last night’s game was that the rest of the Bruins couldn’t give their captain the same support he showed to Seguin. Dropping a third period lead to their traditional rivals is never something that would leave a good taste in a B’s fans mouth. But it would be especially bitter if that loss came coupled with questions about this team’s toughness and character if Emelin’s actions went unanswered.
The Montreal Canadiens got the victory and left town in first place. But before this season is over, the Boston Bruins will have twenty-nine more chances to overtake the Habs in the standings. They have two more head-to-head meetings to top the Canadiens in the regular season and are very likely to meet yet again in postseason. But, like 2010, the Bruins only had one split second chance to the right thing. This time however, they responded emphatically and ruthlessly and will be a better team for it.