BOSTON -- It was like an elephant in the room for the Bruins on Thursday morning. After watching their leading goal scorer, Brad Marchand, have to be helped off the ice because of an elbow to the head from Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the second period of their 5-4 win at New Jersey on Wednesday night, they knew the question was coming and they weren’t about to bite.
The question, of course: Why did their physical play and intensity seem to decline following the cheap shot to their teammate that earned Volchenkov a four-game suspension? Why wasn’t there any push-back from the Bruins after an opponent went after their star player?
Have the Bruins lost their identity as the physical “Big, Bad Bruins” that they established in their Stanley Cup-winning season of 2010-11?
“We’ll deal with that internally. I don’t throw my guys under the bus, you know that,” head coach Claude Julien said when asked if he expected more of a physical response from his team. “There’s a situation there that happened [Wednesday]. Could we, in the past? I think you would’ve seen that. Is there a reason why it didn’t happen? Not really. But you guys can say what you want. I’m not going to let negativity -- like, for example, now we’re not hitting enough, our guys aren’t going to bat. My job is to right the ship, and I’m going to right the ship the way that we’re ready for playoffs. The battle is for ourselves to be better and the battle is to battle against you guys where you guys will find those kinds of things, and we’re not going to let that creep into our dressing room.”
But while Julien said he doesn’t throw guys under the bus, it seemed like he at least threw them onto the street and into the line of oncoming traffic. When he said “you would’ve seen that” in the past, he is acknowledging that there is something missing with this current Bruins squad that was there in the past.
Later, when the dressing room was opened to the media, defenseman Adam McQuaid, who had to watch the game from above, said he was itching to be on the ice and respond to the Volchenkov hit.
“Yeah, I was pretty much boiling up inside with that situation there and I wish I would’ve been on the ice there,” McQuaid said.
But later, when defenseman Andrew Ference -- who was on the ice for the hit -- was asked about the lack of response, Ference pointed to the fact that most of Marchand’s teammates didn’t see the hit until after the game or even Thursday morning.
“Yeah, if people see what happens. Most of us saw it this morning, how it really went down,” said Ference.
Ference was then asked if he saw his teammate lying on the ice, and he declined to answer.
“Next question,” he said.
But to Ference’s credit, when another reporter rephrased the question and pointed out signs that the Bruins might be losing their identity, Ference agreed and said it’s time for the Bruins to start practicing what they preach.
“Part of having an identity is not just talking about what your team should be like, it is about doing it,” Ference said. “It’s about actions, like strong fore-checks and hits and stuff that is within the game. It’s not about gooning it up or anything like that but just having that physical presence. For sure, not just [Wednesday] in the third but for many games it’s been a missing element that in the past has put our team over the top for sure.”
The Bruins rearguard was then asked if the condensed schedule had affected their identity at all, and unlike his coach and some players who recently have used that as an excuse, Ference did not.
“It has to be there and there’s no excuses,” Ference said. “Everybody has the same number of games this year and teams have had heavier schedules at different times, but everybody is going through it and feeling the effects of not only the schedule but, like I said, the competitiveness of this year has been extremely high. So it’s the same on both sides. Complaining about the ice is a really cheap excuse to lean on. The identity that you talk about and being a tough team to play against, you have to constantly prove it regardless of the schedule and whatnot. It has to be there.”
Ference is right. Actions speak louder than words, and right now the Bruins aren’t being heard on the ice the way they have in recent seasons. Until they are, it could be open season on their key players.