Are the Boston Bruins ready to become the hunted lion in the NHL again?
Following his team’s 4-1 win over a listless and emotionless Boston Bruins team at TD Garden on Tuesday night, Calgary Flames center and longtime Bruins nemesis Nazem Kadri was asked how a heavy underdog like the Flames was able to beat the beasts of the east in the Bruins.
“Sometimes, a pack of hyenas can take down a lion,” Kadri replied.
….and that's how the Panthers did it too. It's the recipe against this squad. They can overcome it but at times they just cave to being overwhelmed.
— Kevin Gordon (@kgordon077) February 7, 2024
Thanks to Kevin Gordon for that response, and what an absolutely salient observation and reminder!
You may recall that while they weren’t a pack of hyenas, a pack of Panthers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent Stanley Cup Playoffs history last April. The Florida Panthers, led by the skilled and pain in the derriere Matthew Tkachuk, took down, statistically, the best regular season team in NHL history, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the 2022-23 Boston Bruins in the opening round of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. While this was the first game back after the NHL all-star break in early February, the 4-1 loss to the Flames on Tuesday night looked eerily similar to the first-round series loss to the Panthers last April, and the reaction from the Bruins postgame sounded all too familiar.
“We weren’t good in any area,” Boston Bruins captain Brad Marchand said bluntly to the assembled media in the dressing room after the game. “Their compete level was a lot higher than ours. We figured we’d be a little bit rusty. We didn’t have the effort, unfortunately. We never got to our game. They play hard. They were getting into a lot after whistles. They were running around, and we didn’t push back enough to elevate to their level.”
Marchand had every right to call his teammates out after the Flames were clearly targeting him after whistles, and there was hardly any pushback from the Bruins. Just 16 minutes into the game, with the Flames up 2-0, 6-foot-2, 173-pound Martin Pospisil took a running start at the 5-foot-9, 176-pound Bruins captain and cross-checked him in the face. Pospisil received a five-minute cross-checking major ten-minute misconduct and was ejected. However, Marchand wound up with a two-minute slashing penalty because he was the only one to answer the cheap shot from Pospisil and other Flames, who repeatedly targeted him and tried to goad him into penalties.
“Yeah, they play hard,” Marchand said. “They were getting into a lot after the whistles. They’re running around. We definitely didn’t push back enough the way we needed to to elevate to their level.”
Bruins defenseman and alternate captain Charlie McAvoy echoed Marchand’s sentiments.
“They were extremely physical after the whistle,” Charlie McAvoy noted. “Yeah, I don’t think we tried to match that enough.”
Same from Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery:
“I thought Calgary was physical,” Jim Montgomery added. “I didn’t think we were physical.”
“I just didn’t think we were good,” Montgomery added. “Our effort was poor. Obviously, as a coaching staff, you look inward, and we like to look at our preparation. You always think, as a coach, your preparation was good — but obviously, it wasn’t good enough. A lot of mental mistakes, a lot of physical mistakes, and that’s a lack of real good preparation, individually and collectively.”
Good on Montgomery to own his and his coaching staff’s role in all of this, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to the Bruins players to dig deeper and fight back with authority. Given what happened in the playoffs last spring, and even as recently as Nov. 25 when a two-hander to Trent Frederic’s head by New York Rangers captain Jacob Trouba went unanswered by Frederic’s teammates and, subsequently, the NHL Department of Player Safety. Get ready to see more of that and what the Flames did to the Bruins as the regular season turns up a few notches physically. Can this Bruins match that increasing intensity, or should general manager Don Sweeney be fixated on players of Trouba’s ilk heading into the NHL trade deadline instead of the offensively skilled players he’s rumored to be pursuing?