By design, the NHL is decaf.
Referees and linesmen bust up scrums before the gloves come off. Naughty words, like the ones presumably spoken by Kevan Miller and Matt Beleskey in Tuesday's third period, bring down the hammer of 10-minute misconducts.
This is what happens when concepts such as concussions, lawsuits, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy are discussed as commonly as man-to-man defense. Violence becomes discouraged. Perhaps rightly so.
But hockey, above all else, is a game of conflict. Angry men hit other angry men. Sticks meant to score become blunt instruments of destruction. Gloves sometimes get in the way of bare-knuckled fists.
So at least to these eyes, it's quite nice, as uncommon as it's become, to see a game go double-espresso cuckoo. Based on the fans on their feet at TD Garden and the buzz in the dressing room after the Bruins' 7-3 win, others are in agreement. Nobody seemed to mind that the Bruins and Senators combined for 10 goals and 110 penalty minutes.
"It's one of those ones that brings a team together," Max Talbot said. "You feel good. You feel good after a game like this. You keep it in your head and you keep it in your back pocket that, 'OK, we stepped up. We stuck together. And we can do it again.' "
Too often, the product is sleepy. Structured defenses overwhelm skilled offenses. Athletic, technical, giant, and armored-up goalies turn goals into saves. Coaches demand backchecking.
I trust that those in attendance for Tuesday's dust-up will not be raving to their family members and co-workers about crisp zone entries, good stick-on-puck play, or layered defenses.
The chatter will be about Chris Neil's stickwork between Adam McQuaid's legs, Zac Rinaldo's prompt gloves-off dispatching of David Dziurzynski, or Mark Borowiecki's failed attempt to get Jimmy Hayes to spend five minutes in the penalty box. Things that are fun to watch usually take place when tempers go full boil.
These flare-ups don't have to happen often. They usually don't.
But occasional mayhem keeps our easily distracted eyeballs from straying too far. When things go haywire like they did between the Bruins and Senators, there is no temptation to reach for the remote. Additional wackiness is always possible.
"I don't know. I really don't," said Bruins coach Claude Julien when asked why things got goofy. "That's just things you want to see your team stick together and make sure you stick up for your teammates. That's what we did tonight. Whether some people think it's team-building, it's great for your group, to a certain extent it is. You don't want to see that every game. It happened tonight. Usually those things can happen on those home-and-away games with the same teams."
There were multiple candidates when searching for a genesis of the goofiness. The Bruins wanted revenge for their 3-1 loss in Ottawa on Sunday. Brad Marchand upended Borowiecki with a low hit in the first period. Neil drove his stick skyward between McQuaid's legs at 2:55 of the second.
Zdeno Chara and Borowiecki jousted and dropped their gloves at 13:14 of the second. Chara rag-dolled Borowiecki to the ice. Chara was kind enough not to deliver a clenched right hand to the Ottawa defenseman's face. Had Chara done so, the few teeth remaining in Borowiecki's mouth may have tumbled onto the TD Garden ice.
At 9:55 of the third, Marchand jabbed the blade of his stick into Kyle Turris's stomach. At 18:57, Landon Ferraro and Max McCormick fought in the Ottawa zone.
The pot finally boiled over at 19:33 of the third with the Bruins in command, 6-3. Dziurzynski crunched Miller into the end boards. When Miller went looking for trouble, Neil cut him off, which drew McQuaid's attention. Neil and McQuaid fought. Video replays showed Neil got his finger into McQuaid's left eye.
At the same time, Rinaldo took care of Dziurzynski with a string of rights. By the time referees Frederick L'Ecuyer and Kyle Rehman settled things, sticks and gloves littered the Boston zone.
"They got in a couple of cheap shots early in the game," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said. "We are not going to do anything stupid about it. It's a little bit uncalled for. On our part, too, to do what we did when we were down by two goals, we don't want to get that happening to us. But at the same time, it was building up for a long time. I thought they were getting away with a lot of crap."
Then before the next puck drop, Miller and Zack Smith were given early exits for chattering. Beleskey soon joined Miller off the ice. Neither L'Ecuyer nor Rehman were willing to risk more rough stuff. Linesmen Michel Cormier and Tim Nowak must have been happy to see it. For once, they were busier breaking up fights than spotting offsides. In today's peace, love, and happiness league, a lineman's body-separating muscles can atrophy.
It's not just entertainment when gloves come off. Conflict brings teammates together. Neither coaches nor players mind when that happens.
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