Moments before Torey Krug’s cannonball of a smack on Robert Thomas Monday night became the signature moment of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final — granted, we’re only 60 minutes into this best-of-seven grinder — Krug and Blues forward David Perron tangled in a junkyard scrap on Tuukka Rask’s doorstep.
Though hardly a stranger to how temperatures can rise at this time of year, even the Bruins goalie was a bit surprised over the tussle.
“What the [expletive] are these guys doing?!” said Rask, asked Tuesday to recall what he thought as the shenanigans played out just a few feet away in the slot. And with a shrug, Rask added, “Hey, it’s the playoffs.”
Predictably, the Krug hit on Thomas instantly became a social media brush fire, as if stoked by a steady wind from the building in the old West End. The video was posted on digital sites far and wide within moments and was still going strong, mainstream media platforms included, into Tuesday night.
The fight game is all but dead and buried in today’s NHL. These two squads have not logged a five-minute fighting major yet in the 2019 playoffs. But big hits are here to stay and often get glorified. They remain pure oxygen for a crowd that loves violent contact, as well as those who cling to the NHL’s past of bloodbaths and donnybrooks. Even in the days of the Big Bad Bruins, no one delivered hits with the force that Krug put into his hit midway through the third period.
His helmet lost in the Perron fracas, Krug made a beeline up ice, resisting any temptation to smack Perron again in the neutral zone, and steamed down the left wing on a developing collision course with Thomas.
Once across the blue line, his radar fixed on the 19-year-old rookie moving toward the puck near the wall, Krug stopped skating and locked into a glide pattern as he lined up Thomas. It played out a like a video game, absent only the sound effects (BANG!!), with the 5-foot-9-inch Krug hammering the 6-foot Thomas to the ground.
The sellout Garden crowd of 17,565 roared, in that old familiar Big Bad Bruins red-meat-on-Causeway kind of way. With the Bruins already ahead on the scoreboard, 3-2, the hit served as the punctuation to a night they would seal a 1-0 series lead, and perhaps more, take the starch out of whatever will the Blues might have to stage a pushback over the final 10 minutes. It was over with that Krug thump.
“A good hit,” said a smiling Noel Acciari, the Bruins’ rock-solid winger who is a connoisseur of smacks large and small. “I mean, no helmet and old-time hockey. Awesome to see.”
It then appeared that Krug and rookie Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington had a brief exchange of words.
“It was more of a stare,” Binnington said Tuesday. “His pupils were pretty big. I don’t know if he’s on something, but . . . he was pretty fired up.”
No telling how the NHL, the Bruins, or Krug himself might respond to Binnington opining over the mental and/or chemical state of the six-year veteran. If Krug were on anything, it appeared to be a mission statement, one he punctuated with an exclamation mark all but carved into Thomas’s No. 18 sweater.
“Obviously, I felt like I was taken advantage of in front of the net,” Krug recalled Tuesday. “Not very happy about it, getting up off the ice. And I was sprinting up the ice and I saw that Perron was going for a change. And I thought there would be a chance for an offensive opportunity and just being in the second wave of an attack.”
If Krug’s developing tour de force had been simply a revenge sprint, he had his chance for that in the neutral zone, with Perron’s back to him as he revved up his skates. Perron’s No. 57 was all but begging for a crosscheck. Krug passed on any temptation.
“Just take a number and try to get it later,” said Krug, asked if he pondered the retaliation hit. “I wasn’t going to do anything stupid and take a penalty and put our team in any sort of jeopardy.
“Luckily the puck went to a dead spot in the ice where you can make a hit like that. You are not able to do it unless you have the guys reloading and you have the proper support, and we did.”
Referees Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari kept their whistles on silent mode, maddening some, particularly a vocal Twitter crowd, who felt Krug was guilty of charging. Keep in mind, in the six-month regular season of 2018-19, only 16 charging infractions were whistled (followed by three more in the postseason). The penalty has become nearly as infrequent as a traveling violation in the NBA, where players now lug the ball for the equivalent of a first down without a whistle.
Critical, too, was the fact that Krug remained in his glide pattern for some 12-15 feet before contact. He did not accelerate into the hit (imagine if he had?!), and he did not launch, leap, or leave the ice prior to contact. He did not bury Thomas into the boards or into the red steel pipes that frame the net.
It was a big, nasty, menacing, clean hit in open ice, and one that the NHL and its broadcast partners will use as a centerpiece of playoff marketing, perhaps for years to come.
No doubt that will offend some. But violence and predatory hits make for great TV, and great TV only translates to more dollars in the Hockey-Related Revenue pot that owners and players split 50/50. In that sense, Krug and the unsuspecting Thomas partnered in putting some more money in the pot.
“Obviously, it is the Stanley Cup Final,” said Tyler Bozak, one of Thomas’s nonplussed teammates. “Teams are playing hard. There’s going to be big hits throughout the whole series. Not something to really focus on.”
Krug, his helmet reclaimed, was stoic as he returned and sat on the bench next to Jake DeBrusk, the building rocking. The proud son of Louie DeBrusk, who built his NHL playing career on big hits and fights, was clearly impressed by his pal’s shift.
“The arena was buzzing, and it gives you that buzz emotionally, I guess,” said DeBrusk. “He was sitting beside me. He was pretty serious. And I was kind of laughing, ‘Oh my God, do you realize what you just did out there?’ He was in the game. He was dialed in.”
Game 2 Wednesday night, 8:23 at the Garden. With the hits surely to keep on coming.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.