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.