With six minutes remaining in Sunday's matinee showdown between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, NHL-leading scorer Evgeni Malkin planted Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk with a hit from behind. Boychuk, who just recently returned from a concussion, was shaken up but ultimately okay, while Malkin received a two-minute minor for boarding.
On Monday, it was announced that Malkin would be spared from being "Shana-banned" by league disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan. In fact, Malkin would not even be required to meet with Shanahan to review the hit. Case closed. Moving on.
Well, not so fast.
Many fans in Boston are beginning to feel as if the watchful eye of the league is blind to injustices suffered by the Black and Gold. With lingering dissatisfaction stemming from the Matt Cooke hit which has all but ended Marc Savard's career, a recent string of questionable judgements in regards to disciplinary action has left an even more bitter taste in the mouths of Bruins Nation.
Let's get something straight first. Boston Bruins hockey has always been and will always be physical hockey. From the imposing Eddie Shore, to the "Big, Bad Bruins," to the manhandling of the Vancouver Canucks last summer, to wear a spoked B, on the ice or in the stands, means you are all in favor of the rough and tumble. While no one wants to see any player hurt on the ice, most Bruins fans die a little bit inside anytime the notion of removing hits or fighting from the game is presented.
Which is exactly why the Evgeni Malkin hit in itself is not the issue. But suppose we play a little role-reversal, and say Johnny Boychuk crushes Malkin from behind? Or worse, what if Milan Lucic laid out the Russian star? Can you hear the horrified gasp escape from Shanahan's mouth? Can you hear the loud BANG of the gavel as Lucic receives no less than five games in the press box? Because everyone in Boston can. Loud and clear.
What else should they expect? On January 7th, the Bruins met the Canucks in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch that saw Milan Lucic thrown out of the game for a suspect call that would later be rescinded. Brad Marchand received a game misconduct and a five-game suspension for his hit on Sami Salo. The Canucks prevailed on the strength of four power-play goals on 11 chances. Following the game, head coach Alain Vigneault and many Vancouver players picked up where they left off during the finals, making very public comments regarding the Bruins' physical style of play and questionable tactics.
That loss to the Canucks ended a streak that saw the Bruins win nine of their previous 10 games. Since then, the Bruins have gone 14-15-2.
In that span of subpar play, the Bruins have lost winger Nathan Horton, who suffered a concussion on a blindside hit from Flyers' Tom Sestito. No suspension, and Horton is questionable to return this season. In February, Kyle Turris of the Senators creamed B's D-man Joe Corvo with a hit from behind. No suspension. Corvo responded by stating intent to challenge Turris to a fight when the teams met up a few days later. Mysteriously, no altercation occurred. Perhaps Corvo got an email before the game...
And now, Evgeni Malkin skates free after delivering a dangerous hit to yet another Bruin. Again, few people believe that Malkin intended on injuring Boychuk, or that Malkin is even a dirty player, and I am not one of those people. However, I look to the numerous Bruins, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, whom have all received suspensions since the battle with Vancouver in January. Were the hits questionable? Or suspendable? Sure, maybe some of them. Maybe all of them. The point being, it seems as if the players in the NHL are all speeding, but only Bruins are being pulled over as of late.
So we look to the Bruins' play since being branded a brutish bunch. The once dominant, swaggering squad seems to be lacking their edge. The physicality, and not just in the fisticuff department, has been missing for months. Capped off by an effort on Sunday where the boys from Beantown were bullied from horn to horn by the Penguins, the Bruins look timid and scared. Sure, injuries to several key players have played a part, but if no punishment comes to those who dish out big, dangerous hits on Bruins, what's to stop the next team from doing the same? And the IR list continues to grow.
The Bruins are in need of a lot of things right now. They need solid goaltending, which they have not been getting lately. They need to get healthy bodies back. They need to ramp up their energy and their physicality. But they also need assurance that they can play by the same rules as the rest of the boys; something that Shanahan and the rest of the NHL has failed to deliver thus far.