The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry has grown tremendously over the last few seasons beginning with the illegal hit that ended Marc Savard’s career. The Bruins bullied the Pens in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals on their way to a 4-game sweep, and it is no surprise that in the team’s previous two matchups this regular season, Pittsburgh has tried to match the Bruins physicality. In their final meeting this regular season, the Penguins did not waste any time in trying to set the tone physically.
During the game’s opening shift, Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik made a huge check up high on Bruins forward Loui Eriksson. Eriksson managed to skate back to the bench, but did not return to the game. Although no penalty was given on the play, the hit was definitely borderline high and left the Boston bench livid that no call was made. A couple minutes after the hit, Orpik declined a fight from Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton that resulted in a roughing major given to Thornton.
After Boston answered with a goal to tie the game at 1-1 halfway through the first, the physicality on the ice escalated once again. While Brad Marchand was on the ice after a collision, the Pens James Neal skated past him and kneed Marchand in the back of the head. As players from both teams came together because of the knee, Thornton skated over to the crowd of players and found Orpik, threw him to the ice, and punched him a couple of times. Orpik laid motionless on the ice and left the game on a stretcher. Thorton received a Match penalty because of his actions.
Although Thornton is known more for fighting than anything else, he has never been known as a dirty player, and he was clearly remorseful after the incident. “I feel awful. It wasn’t my intention,” Thornton said. “I know Brooksy and have gotten to know him over the last seven years. I skated with him in the summer, through the lockout and texted him a couple of times. I feel awful. It’s definitely not what I want anyone to see….It’s hard for me to talk about right now. I can’t say ‘I’m sorry’ enough.”
While no one was getting kneed in the back of the head or punched unconscious, there was a hockey game being played. After Neal emerged from the penalty box at the conclusion of his kneeing penalty, he received a pass that left him one on one with goalie Tuukka Rask. Rask was not able to make the timely save, and the Penguins took the 2-1 lead.
With two minutes left in the game and the Penguins clinging to their 2-1 lead, the Bruins pulled Rask for an extra skater. After Milan Lucic corralled a loose puck from behind the Pittsburgh net, he centered a pass intended for Zdeno Chara in front of the net. The pass sailed past Chara, but David Krejci was in good position behind Chara and found an opening through Chara and a couple Penguins defensemen for the tying goal 18:31 of the period.
The game looked to be headed to overtime thanks to the late goal by Krejci, but with only 13 seconds left in the third period, Chara scored on a wrist shot from the high slot. After the game, Chara talked about the intensity of the game. “It was playoff-kind of hockey,” Chara said. “We were behind that whole game and fighting for that tying goal. Eventually we got it and carried that momentum through the rest of the game, and we were able to score the goal.”
It certainly was not just another regular season matchup as the two teams combined for sixty-seven hits in the game. The team’s rivalry has escalated because of their recent history and it all came to a head in this game. Tempers finally boiled over, and players from both teams suffered the consequences. Both Eriksson and Orpik appear to have suffered concussions and that will only add fuel to the fire if the teams face off in the playoffs.
Although the win was a little bit overshadowed by the ugly hits both teams administered to each other, this was one of the more impressive wins by the Bruins. The Penguins are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and I believe they pose the biggest challenge to the Bruins making it back to the Stanley Cup.
The team will now begin a four game road trip that will take them to Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The already injured Bruins will now be without the services of Eriksson and Thornton, as well as Chris Kelly who suffered a broken ankle in the win against the Penguins after he was slashed by Pascal Dupuis. It will be interesting to see who Boston uses to replace them. Jordan Caron will probably be one player they look to and Ryan Spooner, who was impressive in preseason, could also get a chance to play for the team.