BOSTON The Bruins proved a lot of different things by embarrassing their fiercest competitors from the hockey-crazed hamlet of Montreal.
The Bs showed they could ably handle the speedy, skilled, resilient Habs while playing a straight hockey game. They simply beat the Canadiens with hard work, skill, strength and skating speed rather than on-ice thuggery.
Essentially, they beat the Habs at their own game, going on six power plays, dominating the shots by an almost 2-1 margin and never easing off the gas against a team that had won 9 of their previous 11 meetings.
Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell each potted a pair of goals to announce their readiness for their first Stanley Cup playoff experience. Zdeno Chara notched three assists, which continues an amazing run (2 goals, 8 assists along with a plus-8 in seven games) since the Pacioretty incident at the Bell Centre. And Tim Thomas racked up his career-best eighth shutout of the season.
All of those things on the ice were thoroughly undeniable as the Bs slammed down the Habs by a shocking 7-0 score at TD Garden. Boston essentially locked down the division with a five point lead over Montreal with only nine games left and two important games in hand for the Black and Gold.
But the most important thing that took place over the last 36 hours was almost entirely about what went on in Boston's dressing room. It's been accused of being fractured or fragile at points over the last three seasons, but this week the Bruins have shown their togetherness both on and off the ice.
Mark Recchi and to a slightly lesser extent Milan Lucic both admitted after Thursdays statement victory over the Habs that their comments about Max Paciorettys injury embellishment on 98.5 the Sports Hub were orchestrated to help take some of the attention and heat away from their 6-foot-9 captain, Chara.
Chara has been the subject of derision, preposterous threats of criminal investigations and plain old smear campaigns manufactured in Montreal, and hes had to put up with unending questions about the Pacioretty hit in every city hes visited in the 16 days since the incident.
And that doesnt even count the CNN crew on Long Island that demanded to know what the 6-foot-9 Slovakian thought about Air Canada threatening to pull their NHL advertising dollars because of his on-ice violence.
Or the boos fueled by the Montreal-concocted perception that Chara is hell-bent on hurting opposing players with dirty hits a laughable accusation given Charas nearly immaculate 13-year disciplinary history in the NHL.
For a player that prides himself on playing a clean game and adhering to everything within the rules, all of that junk was piling up as a burden on Charas shoulders throughout the last three weeks. Recognizing all of that and the Montreal media tempest hitting Boston, Recchi stepped forward and took a hit for his captain.
I have to be honest with you guys. I wanted to take the heat off Zee Zdeno Chara for a day, said Recchi after the big shutout victory over Montreal. Im a big boy. And I think anyone who knows me, knows that I have great respect for the Montreal organization, I played five years there.
I have great respect for Doctor David Mulder, the medical staff there. I had a great five years there. I took the pressure off of Zee. In twenty-two years, Ive respected all my teammates, all the players I play against. My record has shown that for twenty-two years. I took the pressure off of Zee for one day, Im a big boy, I can handle it.
Recchi was pressed to answer whether he actually believed what hed said 24 hours earlier about the Habs organization embellishing Paciorettys injuries to try and get Chara suspended, and he continued to hold up his simple motive behind the explosive comments.
I did what I had to do. Zee has taken a lot of heat and I felt it was very important to take, get some focus elsewhere. Im a big boy and like I said, Im sorry if it hurt some people, but at the same time, I think everyone knows my reputation for twenty-two years, said Recchi. Im very respectful of teammates, players, organizations and that is not going to change. I felt a need to protect our captain and its important. That will be the end of it and you wont hear anything said by me anymore.
Coach Claude Julien indicated he knew exactly what Recchi was doing by stirring the pot a day before his hockey club played its biggest game of the season, and it was pretty clear from the efforts of Chara on down that his teammates respect what their 43-year-old leader did. Chara never asked for anyone to step in on his behalf or shoulder some of the Pacioretty-sized burden on his shoulders, but he appreciated Recchis assistance.
Recchi is such a great teammate and such a respected guy and leader. Its a thrill to have him. We all learn so much from him, said Chara. Hes obviously the next Hall-of-Famer and such a classy guy. Like I said, I cant thank him enough to be my teammate and be part of this team, and helping all of us to be better.
But it wasnt just Recchis gesture that showed a hockey team as one. It was about all the Bruins playing the way they did to back up both Recchi and Chara against the Canadiens, and it was about Campbell dropping the gloves with the bigger, bulkier Paul Mara to defend Recchi once again.
Mara had gone after Recchi with several blows in front of the Boston net earlier in the second period that sent both players to the box, and Campbell responded without hesitation to go at the Montreal defenseman when both players were on the ice. It wasnt much in the way of a fight and it was the only fight on such a hotly anticipated evening of hockey compared to the bouts during the bloody affair between these two teams at the Garden the last time they met.
But Campbell showed the kind of leadership, togetherness and support thats been there pretty much all season for the Bruins.
It showed up in abundance when it was needed most against the hated Habs.
I think the focus and togetherness showed tonight, said Julien. We went out there and were focused on doing it right, and I think for us its a win that we needed for all the right reasons: standings and everything else. I think our guys felt good about their performance tonight and rightfully so.
The Bruins are back on track, theyre playing for each other and they served another 60-minute piece of evidence that things are a little different this season.
Dont believe me?
Why dont you go ask the Canadiens and see what they say?