It’s fair to assume that there were hockey fans who barely made their February car payment but last summer had circled one of three dates to finally see the Boston Bruins in person.
Even if this 2023-24 juggernaut of a franchise centennial were predictable, it still would have come with no promise that every night is going to be their night. And, somehow in a matter of three home games over a five-day span, Bruins fans were treated to an electrifying effort sandwiched between two listless performances devoid of passion.
Former Bruins goaltender Andrew Raycroft had observed during a NESN pregame show prior to the week that this is a challenging part of the season because opponents are competing for first place, more desperately a spot in the playoffs or, even more desperately, to stay in the league.
The Boston Bruins even have a few in the latter category, including Derek Forbort, Danton Heinen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Oskar Steen, James van Riemsdyk, and Anthony Richard.
Depending on who you talked to following Saturday’s debacle against the Washington Capitals, postgame reactions were a mixed bag; the difference wasn’t so much about what had just happened but in which context to view it, the week or the season.
Boston Bruins coach Jim Montgomery was in the moment: “We will change or things will change.” Then this: “If there’s a puck between you and (me), I want to break your leg to get it. We don’t have that right now two out of three games – that simple.” And this on the 18,000 boo birds in attendance: “I love our fans. They’re hockey-knowledgeable. They’re not wrong.”
So was leader without the letter Charlie Coyle, who said he found it difficult to discuss because it felt like lending credence to what he considered blatantly unacceptable.
Across the room, Brandon Carlo, while admitting his own disappointment, alluded to the importance of moving on to the next game (Tuesday night at home against Tampa Bay).
Finally, Brad Marchand spoke, and he wasn’t about to let the team get down on itself over a couple of dog-days clunkers amidst a 32-11-9 campaign that has the surprising Boston Bruins still sitting first in the Eastern Conference and second in the league to Vancouver. Citing his own failure to get the message across, Montgomery had handed the captain the room for second intermission.
“We have a very passionate sport city and we have very passionate fans, and they expect to win every game. It’s not going to happen, but they’ve got to see the effort and obviously they didn’t like it tonight,” said Marchand.
Back, say 20 years ago, when The Fours was a museum of a bar on Canal Street, reporters including those from out of town enjoyed gathering postgame for a late bite or just a beverage, and invariably a west-coast game was on the TV screens.
I couldn’t help but notice how hard the Los Angeles Kings played at this time of the season, but it also seemed they would break down by season’s end and not factor in the playoffs.
So when they were in town to face the Bruins, I made it a point to attend their game-day skate and check in on coach Andy Murray, whose answer went something like this: “People pay a lot of money to watch us play. I don’t think it’s right for us not to try, do you?”
Yes, it’s silly to feel sorry for millionaires who play a kid’s game for a living and retire in their 30s. But that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect they will perform at their peak 82 times over six months and for as long as they can make the season last after that.
The Boston Bruins have a proud tradition and an honest room full of guys who love hockey, love the city, appreciate the situation they are in, and are obviously troubled by their capacity to disappoint.
If there is a right or wrong, it’s probably in the greed of professional sports as a business to ask this much of paying customers, who will naturally ask this much of the players.
Like Razor said, the opponents are often more desperate this time of year.
Done in the Bruins’ room, I walked down the hallway and out the west end to find Capitals assistant Scotty Allen holding onto a red hockey stick and looking for somebody.
The native of Acushnet, Mass., whose quarter century coaching pro hockey draws a railroad map across the United States including the most obscure of minor-league outposts, was positively giddy that this downtrodden version of the Capitals had managed such a gutsy performance against one of the NHL’s elites.
The harder the Boston Bruins tried on Saturday, the better the Capitals got, and the pride forthcoming from that banged-up, rickety old team hopelessly hogtied to Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time, career goals record was starved for something good.
Saturday night they earned a slice of life the way it used to be in Washington, and good for Allen, head coach Spencer Carberry and the rest of their staff.
The fleet-footed Richard, by the way, played 13 of his 16 NHL games last season with the Montreal Canadiens and is a 2015 (of course), fourth-round pick (100th overall) of the Nashville Predators.
Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk has been fined $5,000 by the NHL Dept. of Player Safety for spearing Washington Capitals winger Max Pacioretty Saturday night, the maximum allowable fine under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Grzelcyk did not address the media after the game, but after Pacioretty ran over him behind the Boston net during the first period, the two cycled back to the front of the net where Grzelcyk engaged Pacioretty and managed to plant the point of his stick blade into the winger’s groin.
I don’t mean to make a funny here, but stick position is a fundamental component of Grzelcyk’s man-on-man technique, and it seems this meeting just took a wrong turn. Pacioretty, despite his obvious discomfort, did return to the game.
Nonetheless, players are accountable for the results of actions they deliberately take, and after on-ice review Grizz got five and a game. A suspension would have been over the top.
What will Morgan Rielly get for assaulting Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig for the latter’s showboating slapshot into Toronto’s vacated net to seal the Sens’ win on Saturday? After reading Bruce Garrioch’s article, I’m frankly amazed that some of the Sens seem okay with Rielly’s actions.
If Rielly doesn’t like being shown up, don’t be. Play better. The NHL needs to make a statement here. Rielly has an in-person hearing this week, meaning it’s possible he could be suspended for more than six games.
Joining Boston Bruins web reporter Eric Russo on Wednesday, March 6, at the Kowloon in advance of March 7 Era Night vs. Toronto will be Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Claude Julien in the latest Cue the Memories event. It’s a buffet, a seat for the yap session and a meet/greet/photo with the 2011 Stanley Cup heroes. Tickets will go fast at bostonbruins.com.
Spotted on Causeway Street before Saturday’s game: a pretty nice, home-white, replica No. 7 BOURQUE sweater. Now that’s a black-and-goldie oldie.