By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON The boom was audible all around the rink, and signified multiple 200-pound bodies slamming into the corner with the kind of overpowering force that can only be achieved by skating speed along with a healthy dollop of brute force.
The top two Bruins forward lines along with the top four Bs defensemen were locked in 5-on-5 battle drills on half-ice at the end of Friday afternoons practice at TD Garden, and things were getting long on cuteness and low on intensity.
Patrice Bergeron was carrying the puck near the corner while attempting to cycle the puck, and he was absolutely clobbered by Nathan Horton from behind in a violent hit that knocked both Bergeron and Mark Recchi off their pins.
It was as if time froze once Horton had taken the biscuit from Bergeron and flicked the puck out of the zone, and there was a legitimate stunned expression on the face of both Bergeron and Recchi as they climbed back up on their skates.
Its a part of the game, right, said Bergeron. Thats the way its going to be in games. If you bring the intensity and emotion that you had in practice then everything will be fine. It was intense and I was the one on the receiving end, I guess. You need to get the puck out, and thats how you get the puck back, I guess. I was a little surprised. I wasnt expecting it necessarily, but its all good.
The message was certainly related to a turnover Bergeron made in the exact same spot in the defensive zone just one day earlier that led to Torontos game-tying goal, and perhaps Horton was sending out a message that everybody needs to get stronger on the puck.
As if to hammer his point home, Horton also drilled Dennis Seidenberg during another encounter in the always dangerous corner and the message really seemed to clear and appreciated.
Whatever the case, its got to make the Bs coaches giddy to see their top two forwards lines getting chippy with each other as ice time minutes and power play reps are worth their weight in gold during the playoffs. Both the Bergeron and David Krejci line could be considered No. 1 lines in the playoffs, and the BergeronRecchiBrad Marchand trio has actually led the forwards in ice time during each of the last few games.
That kind of thing has to serve as motivation to Horton and Co. on their forward line, and its starting to show in practice. That kind of fierce competition and intensity is only going to make all of the players up their competitive dials if its coming in small doses during practice on an as needed basis.
Killer instinct was exactly what the Philadelphia Flyers had last year in their playoff series with the Bruins once Krejci went down with a dislocated wrist courtesy of a Mike Richards collision at center ice. Theres always a little more room for all of that provided it remains once the real bullets start whizzing around in the playoffs.
Horton has been in a playoff state of mind with both his intensity and offensive production for the better part of a month. It was first noticeable when Horton enjoyed a monster of a game against the Edmonton Oilers in an otherwise sleepy affair, and knocked Oilers defenseman Theo Peckham out with one thunderous right hand to the face.
Since he took the ice in Edmonton Horton has 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) along with a plus-9 and three fighting majors in 16 games, and has sported the proper surliness needed once playoff hockey gets going. While Horton quickly made amends with Bergeron in a post-practice conversation in the dressing room designed to smooth things over before he left the Garden without fully addressing his motives, the statement cant help but be appreciated.
Horton and the rest of the Bruins play much better hockey and are way more effective when theres a man-sized chip on their shoulder. That chip has alternated sizes in the handful of recent games as the Bs basically play out the regular season string, but Krejci indicated the fireworks were all about players like Horton who never got to experience the Stanley Cup playoffs while doing time with the Florida Panthers getting emotionally ready for a huge postseason to the Boston franchise.
It is what it is, said Krejci. Just change it up a little bit, I guess. It was nothing personal or anything. The practice was a little sleepy, I guess, and the physical game woke us up a bit and the practice was way better.
Lots of people are going through different emotions. As long as when the playoffs come everybody is on the same page and theyre feeling comfortable with themselves thats what everybody wants.
The constantly smiling Horton looks like hes found a comfortable snarl on the ice with the playoffs approaching, and that seems to be what everybody wants given the results that have been hard to miss.
Just ask Patrice Bergeron.