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Say It Ain’t So, ST22

Posted By Matt Preston On Dec 8 2013 @ 2:16 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

Quite the week for the Boston Bruins. If only it had anything to do with the hype of their first of the season against the rival Montreal Canadiens or their dramatic last minute win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If only it were not for all the wrong reasons.

If only it were not because of two hits, two stretchers, a vile knee and a hellacious sucker punch.

The fun started early in Montreal on Thursday night, 4:28 in, when Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk went to play a puck deep in the corner and was sent face first into the dasher. Pacioretty got the deserved two minutes for boarding, Boychuk got a ride in an ambulance and through the end result was a lower back injury that will keep the Bruins defenseman out five to seven days, the hit drugged up the emotions of a far more gruesome incident [1].

It took even less time for all Hell to break loose on Saturday night. Just 11 seconds into the contest, Bruins forward Loui Eriksson peeled off up the right wing boards looking for an outlet pass from center Patrice Bergeron when he was railroaded by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Eriksson was slow to get up and did not return to the game.

The Bruins winger more than likely did not see the hit coming, which of course exacerbated the outrage, but no penalty was called on the shoulder-to-shoulder hit and that was probably the proper assessment by the officials. A good hit gone bad.

The hitting only intensified from there, in both directions, and about six minutes later Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton went out and did what Shawn Thornton does, attempting to engage Orpik. Though he is by now means a soft player, the 6’2”, 219 lbs. Orpik – whose number of career fights is seemingly akin to the number of times Thornton throws down in a month – did not answer the call. For the moment Thornton let it go, but still the fervor between both sides continued.

The rage boiled over just past the 11-minute mark of the first period when Bruins winger Brad Marchand was trying to regain his footing after being innocently tripped by Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. Coming up from behind the play, Penguins winger James Neal made little attempt to avoid Marchand, who was still on the ice, and kneed the diminutive Bruin in the head.

If only that were the most egregious move of the night.

It still may have been, but the violence did not end there. Neal went straight to the bench after colliding with Marchand, but that did not stop a scrum from forming once the whistle blew so the Bruins medical staff could tend to their injured player. As a number of the remaining players on the ice tangled. Thornton sought out Orpik, who was engaged in the scrum, grabbed him from behind, slew footed him and then threw a pair of punches as the defenseless Penguins defenseman lay on the ice.

The surrounding Penguins immediately called for their own medical staff. Orpik was put onto a stretcher and taken to Mass General Hospital. An otherwise great game tainted.

In an instant, one of the “good guys” in hockey who “lives and dies by ‘the Code,’” a man who always talks about the honor of hockey went from the peaceful warrior to Public Enemy No. 1. One of the darker moments in recent Bruins history.

Can Shawn Thornton the man be defended? Most likely. Around town he has a solid reputation of being a class and honorable man. Despite his pugnacious style, the impending suspension that is coming will be the first of his career, it is not like Thornton has a history of dirty play and his postgame statement seemed emotional in sincere. Should all of that be taken away by one fit of rage?

Can Thornton’s actions on Saturday night be defended? Not a chance.

Thornton snapped and in a fit of rage went out to hurt Orpik. Did he intend to put Orpik in the hospital? One can only hope not, but in those minutes following the hit on Eriksson, Thornton’s actions were not fitting of the honorable man looking to do right by his injured teammate. They were that of a man out for revenge and for them he deserves to be punished.

As for Orpik, the insinuations were being made that maybe he would not have ended up in the hospital had he not made the initial hit on Eriksson. There may be truth to such a statement, despite the ridiculous nature of blaming the victim of an assault and difficulty criticizing a defenseman for doing their job. He is the one who should be felt for. If the world wants to cry for Shawn Thornton because he is a good guy who “plays the game the right way,” Orpik was doing much the same and is a pretty good guy, too.

Lost in the shuffle was the Neal hit on Marchand. No stretcher was involved and Marchand missed little to no time. His suspension will be a fraction of Thornton’s, if there is one at all pending his phone hearing with the league, but it is the kind of action, above all else, that is damaging the game. He laid out all the rhetoric fitting of a man on trial after the game, but for as much as Thornton was a man on a mission when he went looking for Orpik, Neal had no such mission planned to avoid making contact with Marchand.

Which is more damning: A fit of berserker rage or a premeditated attack?

Boychuk returned from Montreal with the Bruins and then left his team on their four-game road trip after Saturday’s game, the Pacioretty hit already a thing of the past, while Thornton was left behind to await his hearing with the league. Orpik had returned to the TD Garden from Mass General before the Penguins night at the office had finished and returned to Pittsburgh with Neal and the rest of the team, thankfully having seemed to escape any serious harm. The best possible end from such a frightful moment.

Both teams wear Black-and-Gold and both will defend their guys in the sure to be lengthy debate that ensues over who did right and who did wrong? The only thing that is certain is it was too much of the ugly side of hockey for one team for one week.

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[1] a far more gruesome incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jimZ1tSdPY0

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