Johnny Boychuk, Jaroslav Spacek

Is Boston back to being ‘The Big Bad Bruins’?

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When people think back to the golden age of the Boston Bruins, it’s natural to conjure up images of Bobby Orr’s majestic end-to-end rushes and Phil Esposito’s knack for scoring rebound goals. Yet those early ’70s teams were also the pugilistic precursors to the Broadstreet Bullies, earning the alliterative nickname “The Big Bad Bruins” as they blended grit and skill on their way to two Stanley Cup victories. (Heck, even Orr was known for his considerable – if infrequent – bouts of anger.)

Despite the all-too-short Cam Neely era, the Bruins haven’t been able to approach that mixture of skill and sinister play in decades. While it is obviously too early to say that this version of the team has Cup victories in their future, they might have the best chance to mimic the team’s successful combination of talent and testosterone.

Now, any team can throw a bunch of knuckle-draggers on the ice, as evidenced by the New York Islanders’ convenient decision to call up enforcer Michael Haley for the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. The difference with the Bruins is that they have some tough guys who can actually play. Just look at Milan Lucic, a power forward who draws Neely comparisons for his dual abilities to duel and fill the net.

The Bruins’ almost-over-the-line display of aggression against the Montreal Canadiens might be considered a “coming out party” for the renewed badness in Boston, but they’ve transformed into a meaner breed overall. The Bruins are tied with the St. Louis Blues for second place in the NHL with 56 major penalties, already seven more than they earned throughout the 2009-10 season. It’s not as if this Boston group is just a bunch of big dumb animals either, considering the fact that they only rank ninth in the league in minor penalties with 208. The fact that they seemingly pick their spots shows that this increase in nastiness is far from a coincidence.

Add that to their status as the top team in the Northeast Division, and it’s possible that this might be part of a successful blueprint for the Bruins.

Claude Julien’s system, Zdeno Chara’s elite defensive play and the Vezina-worthy work of Tim Thomas already make the Bruins a tough to team to score against. Yet with this considerable jump in brutishness, Boston now ranks among the most miserable opponents to play against, period.

They might not have the name recognition of other Eastern Conference favorites like Philadelphia, Washington or Pittsburgh, but any team would be foolish to sleep on the Bruins. Especially since they might just be big and bad again.

Video: Stamkos lights up Leafs during first game in Toronto since re-signing with Bolts

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 15:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a break during a off-day practice session prior to Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 15, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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For those Maple Leafs fans who once hoped Steven Stamkos would go to free agency and sign in Toronto, what transpired Tuesday will probably sting for a bit.

Playing in Toronto for the first time since he re-signed with the Lightning, opting not to test the open market and potentially signing with what is essentially his hometown team, Stamkos scored 1:19 into the contest, after getting sent in alone and beating goalie Frederik Andersen.


That one might hurt.

There was even a smattering of boos directed at Stamkos, who has never played a game for the Leafs, when he first touched the puck during Tuesday’s contest.

You’ll recall that last season, the Stamkos-to-Toronto speculation dominated headlines at times. A bit of a “circus,” indeed.

There were even ‘Sign Stamkos’ signs being handed out to fans prior to a game between the Lightning and Maple Leafs last season.

It’s official: Crosby makes season debut for Penguins

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 2015 in New York City. The Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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All signs pointed to it happening earlier in the day, but it is now official: Sidney Crosby is making his 2016-17 debut on Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Florida Panthers.

Crosby, the captain of the Penguins and the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, missed the first six games of the season due to a concussion. He was injured during practice following the World Cup of Hockey where he led Canada to a championship. Given how much time he missed a few years ago with a concussion only missing six games a positive development for both him and the Penguins.

Crosby will open the game skating on the Penguins’ top line alongside wingers Patric Hornqvist and Scott Wilson.

Along with Crosby return to the lineup, goaltender Matt Murray is also in uniform for the Penguins for the first time this season and will serve as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup.

Murray, who took over the starting job in the playoffs last year when Fleury was sidelined at the start of the first round, was injured at the World Cup while playing for Team North America and has been sidelined since.

Even with the return of Crosby and Murray on Tuesday the Penguins are still missing a pretty significant player as defenseman Kris Letang remains sidelined with an upper body injury.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres at Flyers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11: Radko Gudas #3 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Jake McCabe #29 of the Buffalo Sabres fight in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on February 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won 5-1.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. This match-up features two teams off to slow starts and looking to work their way up the standings in their respective divisions.

You can check out the action on NBCSN or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra (7:30 pm ET).


Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

Bylsma: ‘We need to get more’ out of Reinhart

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12) maintains control of the puck against New York Rangers center Derick Brassard (16) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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After missing the last week with an upper-body ailment, Flyers forward Michael Raffl has been placed on injured reserve.

To fill his spot, the Flyers recalled Taylor Leier from AHL Lehigh Valley.

Raffl, 27, has appeared in three games this season, scoring once while averaging 12:21 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since a 7-4 loss to Chicago on Oct. 18, failing to suit up for Thursday’s loss to Anaheim, Saturday’s win over Carolina and yesterday’s 3-1 defeat in Montreal.

The Flyers are taking on Buffalo tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Philly could make this IR designation retroactive to last Tuesday, which is when Raffl last played. It’s unclear how GM Ron Hextall will handle Raffl’s $2.35 million cap hit with regards to IR, but he’ll need to do some adjusting soon once injured defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Scott Laughton get back in the mix.