The Garden’s ice surface acted as stage for an impromptu Boston pops concert Saturday afternoon, the mellifluent sound of the Bruins and Predators popping one another and rattling boards for a combined total of 91 hits in what was an old-time grinder on Causeway Street.
NHL records track hit totals back to only 2005-06. Admittedly, that omits decades of bumps and bruises, smacks and ice packs.
Nonetheless in that defined timeframe, the 91-hitter (46 by the Predators, 45 by the Bruins) topped the charts for any game the Bruins have played and ditto for the hit-for-hit, tit-for-tat Predators.
It also qualified for the most hits in an NHL game this season, equaling the 91 Washington and Pittsburgh chalked up last Jan. 19, 2021. The league record: 120, posted by the Canadiens and Penguins on Dec. 10, 2019.
“You know, it does hurt to win, it hurts to win,” mused an energized coach Bruce Cassidy, after Taylor Hall’s OT goal finished the afternoon’s anvil chorus with a 4-3 win. “By that I mean you’ve got to take hits, give hits, you’ve got to block shots … a lot of little things go into it.”
All in all, the heavy metal action made for what was the Bruins’ most entertaining game thus far in the 2021-22 season. The hitting was hard, often fierce, and for the most part clean, save perhaps for the sneaky elbow that Roman Josi drilled into Brad Marchand’s nose in the early going.
Marchand’s beak sure has taken a beating of late. The L’il Ball o’Hate had it broken Monday night in Washington by Nic Dowd, thanks to an inadvertent (we think) stick chop. Josi’s hit had red streams running again from the star winger’s nostrils.
If Marchand’s nose is popped again Tuesday night with the Hurricanes in town, it might have to be declared a FEMA Hazard Mitigation site. He’s among the game’s most adept at getting his nose in there. Getting out is another story.
“There are certain guys on our team … like Marchy,” noted Hall, now playing his most productive hockey since his MVP season with the Devils. “Marchy is physical without open ice hits. He goes to dirty areas. A lot of guys on our team are starting to feel comfortable, myself included, playing that type of game.”
Not everyone’s getting their honker minced into hamburger for their troubles. But hold no pity parties for Marchand, who also, when not undergoing his free rhinoplasty procedure, notched his 20th goal of the season — his 11th time reaching that plateau.
Marchand also dished out the equal of what was received in the hit department, recording four smacks, including one midway through the third period that ended Dante Fabbro’s afternoon. He also crushed Josi off the top in OT, just in case the stellar blue liner thought he might leave town without a parting gift.
“A good clean hit on Josi … if the hits are out there, take ‘em,” said Cassidy, later adding, “I think it’s a style we relish playing.”
Adding to the afternoon delight was that fact that not one of the 91 smacks was followed by a gratuitous, ridiculous fight, or even as much as an good old-fashioned facewash. Two honest, adult teams with their big boy shorts hitched for the task.
Too often in today’s game, a big hit, no matter how clean or perfectly legal, triggers a stupid fight. Usually, the only damage the hit has delivered is a bruised ego.
The 60-plus minutes at the Garden brought a welcomed anomaly, two teams having at it, pound of flesh for pound of flesh, and only following up on hits with an eye toward landing the next one.
“When you have the chance to pop someone clean, shoulder to shoulder, or shoulder to chest, its a really good thing to do. It gets the crowd going. It gets our bench going,” said Hall. “It doesn’t need to be a fight every time. I mean, if the other team’s mad at honest hits, clean hits, then that’s their problem. We know what we need to do.”
Craig Smith labeled the effort “an energy blowout” one in which “everyone exerted what they needed to do.”
“It’s a tough game,” added Smith, whose fifth goal of the season proved the 1-0 lead early in the first. “Physically and emotionally you pour everything into it.”
All in all, a little bit of April, May and June playoff energy showed up on a frigid January afternoon in the wind-chilled West End. The two clubs battled as if it were Stanley Cup ice, the kind destined to melt under the feet of the losers.
“You’ve got to play 20-something like that in the playoffs, typically,” said Cassidy, whose squad did just that in the spring of 2019, only to fall one win short, in large part because the Blues were a few body blows better. “You can have an off night, but in general, that’s how [the playoffs] go.”
To that point, noted Hall, the sound of the January pops reverberating in the Garden concert hall, offered some spring time reassurance.
“When the playoffs start, you need to have that game in your bag,” he said. “That was a fun game to play.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.