The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins had yet another marquee matchup this past Saturday, one that was had its fair share of drama. Down 2-1 in the final 1:30 of the game, the Bruins rallied with goals from David Krejci and captain Zdeno Chara’s game-winner with 13 seconds to spare. By all intents and purposes, the Bruins stole one of the more exciting games of this still young season.
Unfortunately, the thrilling conclusion will be the last thing people remember about this tilt. Instead, fans and media alike will recall the on-ice violence that made this game one of the ugliest in recent memory.
Things began heating up when Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik laid a heavy hit on Bruins forward Loui Eriksson. The hit, while vicious, looked to be pretty legal. However, Eriksson definitely felt the effects, leaving the game immediately. From then on, Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton relentlessly tried to get Orpik to engage in a fight, but he continuously declined. Later, Bruins forward Brad Marchand was tripped up by Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. While on the ice, Marchand was clocked in the head by Penguins forward James Neal. The ensuing stoppage saw Thornton come up behind Orpik, who was in the middle of a scrum, slew-footing him and punching him in the face repeatedly while he was down. As a result, Orpik was stretchered off the ice. All in all, the sequence was not something the NHL is terribly excited about.
Make no mistake about it; what Thornton did was disgusting. Though he’s made it through his 14-year career without a suspension, there’s no place in the game for pulling someone down from behind and beating on him. Did he intend to send Orpik to the hospital? I’d like to think not. That said, what he did was inexcusable, regardless of whether or not you feel Orpik’s hit on Eriksson was dirty. You can’t look at Thornton’s actions and excuse them because Orpik “had it coming.”
For what it’s worth, Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t endorsing his forward’s actions after the game. In calling out his player, though, he also took a shot at Neal after the Penguin claimed he didn’t mean to hit Marchand.
“Thorny did cross the line, and some others did too. You have to man up to those things, and I think he did,” Julien said. “He’s being truthful. That’s more than we can say about players that pretend that it wasn’t done on purpose.”
This isn’t exactly a veiled shot, and when you look at the replays, it’s easy to see why Julien is critical of Neal. Though the Penguins forward claims he wasn’t trying to hit Marchand in the head, replays show him make zero effort in trying to get around the prone Bruin even though it appears he sees him on the ice. They also show Neal connecting with Marchand and not even flinching about it. Nor does he even look back to see what he’d done. He just continues to skate to the bench as if it was any other shift. We can’t read Neal’s mind, but when you factor in the aforementioned facts, can you really blame Julien for his skepticism about Neil claiming the hit was purely an accident?
Neither team can skate away from this game with any belief that they played cleanly. Neal certainly looked like he was targeting Marchand, while Thornton gave himself and his team a big black eye with his actions. Though these clubs don’t play each other again this season, if they were to meet in the postseason, things will get heated the second the puck drops.