Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/7/13
BOSTON — The first 11 minutes or so of Saturday night’s game between the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins was not hockey. That’s not what the game is supposed to be, and it’s not something the NHL — or true hockey fans — should want to promote. With two of the league’s best teams playing on a Saturday night, it should have been a showcase of the best the game has to offer. The Bruins’ eventual 3-2 win had its moments, including a fantastic finish, but even that won’t be enough to overcome the embarrassing display that marred the first period. It all started with a green-light hit from Brooks Orpik on Loui Eriksson. The Bruins forward was coming out of his own zone when Orpik lined him up and delivered a hellacious body check. Eriksson’s head appeared to bounce off the ice and he struggled to get back to the bench. Shortly thereafter he was back in the dressing room, his night over with another concussion. That, of course, didn’t sit well with a Bruins team that has made it a habit of sticking up for one another, ever since a lackluster response to Matt Cooke’s infamous hit on Marc Savard back in March 2010. The man who often leads that charge is Shawn Thornton. He did so again Saturday night when challenged Orpik to a fight a few moments after the hit on Eriksson. Orpik declined, and it seemed like that’s where it would end. But almost six minutes later, the gross stuff continued. With Brad Marchand laying on the ice, James Neal appeared to alter his path up ice so that his knee would connect with Marchand’s head. The knee-to-the-head appeared to leave Marchand dazed, and Neal — who offered an embarrassing explanation for the play  after the game — was  called for a penalty. The whistle blew on the Neal penalty, and that’s when Thornton once again sought out Orpik. After a whistle, Thornton found Orpik at the bottom of a scrum. Thornton punched Orpik twice with a gloved hand. Orpik’s head hit the ice, and he was concussed. He lay there motionless as his teammates called for the medical staff. Orpik was eventually stretchered off the ice in one of the scariest scenes you’ll ever see in a rink. A solemn Thornton apologized profusely after the game, as he more than anyone else knew his actions crossed a very dangerous line. It was ugly. It was unfortunate. It was unneeded. It set the tone for the rest of the period and really for the rest of the night. It was, as Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said, a [expletive] show. There was a different feel in the building for much of the rest of the night, especially as concern about the health of Eriksson and Orpik was palpable. “There’s two teams here that have to be honest and say it’s not the kind of hockey you wanna see in the first period,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game. “There are guys who are injured and we don’t wanna see those kinds of injury. It takes two to [tango], as you know and if one team is saying ‘It’s not my fault,’ then they obviously have to look in the mirror and look at the tape. “There’s two teams that are responsible for what happened tonight and we’ve gotta take that responsibility. We’ve gotta deal with it and go from there. Those are unfortunate instances when guys get injured — that’s called Eriksson and it’s also called Orpik. Those are two injuries that you don’t like to see in our game.” It’s unfortunate, too. The nasty stuff, that all took place in the span of about 11 minutes of game time, is what will overshadow what was a pretty good hockey game. The third and final meeting of two teams that met in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring was arguably the best of the bunch so far this season. With both teams shorthanded, there were plays made all over the ice after that unfortunate set of events. It all culminated with one of the better endings the NHL has seen all season. The Penguins held what appeared to be one a pretty solid one-goal lead, if there is such a thing. The Bruins went about 10 minutes in the third period without a shot, and they were looking at a pretty disappointing loss, all things considered. That’s when David Krejci potted the game-tying goal with 1:29 left to make it 2-2. Just 76 seconds after that, Zdeno Chara scored what would be the game-winning goal when his wrist shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury glove side. The TD Garden crowd erupted and was arguably as loud as it’s been since the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round last season. There would be no miraculous game-tying goal with 0.3 seconds left from Sidney Crosby like the last time the Penguins were in town. That finish was hockey at its best, just a couple of hours after we had seen the sport at its worst. “Emotions were pretty high in the first period and you hate to see a couple of guys get injured and all that but after the first period our focus was to win the game,” Jarome Iginla, who was traded to the Penguins last season before signing with Boston in the offseason, said after the game. “It’s for first place and we had to get re-focused and it was one of those nights where emotions are high, there’s a lot of penalties, and both sides, you know you’re trying to keep it together and still focus on winning the game and I thought we were able to do that as it went on and we were able to find a way, to the last minute, to get an important win and a gutsy win.” The Bruins will take the win, no doubt, especially as they wrestle for top spots in the standings. The NHL and the game of hockey, on the other hand, would probably like to forget this one. On a night where the best of hockey should have been the main attraction, it was the ugly sideshow that will serve as the lasting image.Filed under: Boston Bruins, Mike Cole, Top Stories, Uncategorized
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