Sunday, January 8, 2012

Finally, a Worthy Opponent

A lot has already been written about the Bruins vs. Canucks and everyone seems to have a different perspective. This is my spot to share my own, and from what I've been reading I'll probably tick more than a few fellow fans off with it. Oh well.

It was great to see the Bruins face a team they could measure themselves against. As everyone knows, since November 1st the Bruins have been not just beating, but utterly destroying, most opponents. The Bruins have scored six or more goals eleven times. And in the two previous games they outscored their opponents 15-1. The good times have been rolling for some time now, but it is only fun for so long to see games end after the first three minutes. Looking ahead to the games in the new year my attention was drawn to the ones  that might actually be close, and the Vancouver game was the first on the list. Sure, the Bruins did lose a couple since November began, but no offense to Dallas et al, this was because the Bruins didn't come to play.

So I got the challenge I wanted. Truth be told, the Vancouver Canucks were the first team the Bruins have played this season that I felt was good enough to truly make the game interesting. The result was determined as much by the officiating as anything else, so I look on it as a sort of tie, or better: the first game in a long series. Vancouver did earn the first win, I can't take that away from them, but the Bruins would hardly be counted out if this was the first of a seven game series. Before Vancouver fans get too excited, they should consider that playing most the game without Looch and losing Marchand late, who was playing very well, was like tying one hand behind their back. That represents the loss of chemistry on two of the Bruins best lines.

My view is that the Bruins are a better team this year than they were last year. But here's the part that's going to ire my fellow fans: I think it's pretty clear that Vancouver is better too. Or if not better, they are at least tougher. Speaking about the Canucks in this article, Dan Shaunessy claimed, "They are posers and floppers, arrogant and cowardly." Then he went on to describe all the fighting and rough play. This comment may make him popular among Bruins fans, but to be perfectly honest it doesn't accurately describe what I saw during the game. What I saw was a Canucks team eager to prove they were tough and, unlike a few other teams that have tried the same in the Garden, they handled themselves quite well. So cudos from me where they are due.

I'm not going to claim that the referees were biased, but it is clear they made a lot of mistakes. I would very much like someone to explain to me how three Canucks can jump on a pair of players who are fighting and that's not being the third man in. When I saw those white jerseys fly-in I thought I was having a flashback to the 70's! That sort of thing simply isn't allowed today, or so I thought. For the officials to send Lucic out of the game instead, something that the league has now admitted was a mistake, was simply confounding. I still don't get it. I know that the situation was difficult for the officials, but this seemed pretty basic.

All this was made much worse by the fact that I was forced to watch the Vancouver broadcast because the NHL network decided to show the game nationwide exclusively. This begs another question: why have I never once seen the NHL network pick up the NESN broadcast? Not once. Is this some sort of contractual thing? It sure doesn't seem fair to this distant Bruins fan. But I digress. The Vancouver coverage appeared at first glance to be professional, better than what I am forced to watch from some of the other markets. But they seemed oddly uninformed. They never told us what the full penalties were in the first period so I just had to wonder if anyone other than Lucic was ejected. And they didn't even get that right, claiming that he'd only been given a 10-minute misconduct. What really amazed me was when they returned for the second period and admitted that they still didn't know what the penalties were. It made me wonder why they didn't just have someone ask the official score keeper. Or for that matter use their phone to look it up on for heaven's sake! They also went on and on about a supposedly missed icing call that supposedly led to a Bruins goal. Even their between-periods analysts called them on this, rightly pointing out that the icing was in fact waved off and it was the Canucks turnover that actually led to the goal.

The same thing happened when Marchand was given the five-minute major. Nothing was said at the time about a misconduct. They only mentioned much later that the Bruins were "without Marchand." Their whole broadcast seemed like that: just two stuffy old guys jabbering about whatever came into their heads rather than having actual information to pass on to the viewers.

Anyhow, about the Marchand hit. My feeling is that although he clearly didn't intend to hurt anyone, his reaction was of questionable judgement. It was a borderline dangerous choice. I thought a 5 minute major was pretty much deserved. This was no different from charging or leaving your feet to make a hit. And it did, after all, lose the Bruins the game. But I don't believe the misconduct, much less a possible suspension, are warranted. If you watch the video, note the position of his leg. Marchand was in fact very lucky not to have suffered a severe injury himself. If he had been the one hurt, would they have penalized the other guy? I'm not one to claim the NHL is being wussified. I support the attempts to protect the players from concussions. But there is a point where you have to say that sometimes things just happen. I know some Canucks fans think Marchand is some sort of goon, but they are wrong. He doesn't have a history of reckless hits. Think of all those times that players have been dumped over the boards into the bench over the years. It's always highlight reel stuff. Isn't this pretty much the same thing? Are we going to start handing out penalties for dumping players over the boards too?

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