An absence of malice

Bruce Bennett

Nothing creates a rivalry between two teams quite like facing off in a Stanley Cup playoff series. The intensity of the games breeds hockey hatred, and tensions run high. That was the case last time the Bruins reached the Cup Final. This time? Not so much.

When the Bruins were in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2011, most fans were curious about the opposing Vancouver Canucks going into the series. There wasn't much hatred, as the Bruins and Canucks didn't play each other often. Fans knew names like Sedin, Luongo, and Kesler (and Lapierre from his Montreal days) and had probably occasionally seen clips of Canuck misdeeds, but malice? Nah.

Then came the first two periods of Game 1. Suddenly, fans saw shoving matches after every whistle, big collisions all over the ice, Alex Burrows biting Patrice Bergeron, and Dan Hamhuis rupturing a testicle attempting to slow down Milan Lucic. Malice? Present, and a rivalry began.

It stood to reason, then, that after two games of the current Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, there would be a rivalry brewing. After all, the Bruins are as rough-and-tumble as they were back in 2011, and the Blackhawks aren't slouches in the physical department. With irritating players like Brad Marchand, Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, and Milan Lucic in this series, one would have figured the pot would have been stirred enough to start a whirlpool by the start of Game 3.

Instead, the first two games have been relatively civilized affairs. They've been filled with great hockey, tremendous excitement, and enough "between the whistles" drama to fill an entire series. But anger? Hatred? Malice? Non-existent, really.

It's often said that a playoff series breeds hate, and it's almost always true. But what has been the most "hateful" moment in this series thus far?

Dave Bolland's Peverley-esque failed attempt at punking out Brad Marchand?

The most intense back-and-forth in this series has been the battle to see which team can rack up the most "too many men on the ice" penalties.

Even the interaction between the two fanbases has been relatively civilized. There isn't much trolling or mocking on Twitter (or at least not nearly at the level seen during the Toronto, New York, and Pittsburgh series), with the few Hawks fan loudmouths lurking in comment sections and sinking to misogynistic retorts.

This series has been about hockey, plain and simple. And while it's nice to see, it's pretty strange at the same time. When was the last time the Bruins partook in a relatively quiet, respectful playoff series?

Take a look at the subplots involved in the B's recent playoff series:

  • 2011 vs. Montreal: Diving, diving, Benoit Pouliot being a chump, fights.
  • 2011 vs. Tampa: A few fights, plenty of shoving matches, incidents with fans.
  • 2011 vs. Vancouver: Scrums after every whistle, a concussion, a broken back, a bite, taunting, punching bags, tackles.
  • 2012 vs. Washington: Frequent scrums, crybaby gestures, fake slashes, crosschecks to the face.

It's possible that these two teams respect each other's talent too much to get involved in extracurricular affairs. Each side knows that the margin for error in this series is razor thin, and neither wants to be the squad that slips over the edge. It's possible that the players on these teams have a sort of mutual respect for each other, similar to how most of the fans have remained cordial (maybe it's an Original Six thing, but there seem to be a lot of Bruins fans who consider the Hawks their "Western" team).

Or maybe the series is teetering on the edge of an explosion, as was the case in 2011. Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver were rough, but it was Aaron Rome's hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3 that really sent things over the edge. From there, that series offered Tim Thomas punching someone and tackling someone else, Marchand starting his Canuck flipping career, numerous taunts directed at Lapierre, and Marchand playing a game of Whac-a-Swede. Could this series be headed in that direction?

Maybe, and it would probably benefit the Bruins. For years now, Bruins teams have played better with a perceived chip on their shoulder, with a wrong to right or a score to settle. Whether on the surface or somewhere subconscious, that was partially the case in the series against Pittsburgh.

There was plenty of history at play in that series, but it also featured a ton of hatred-creating incidents from the beginning: Matt Cooke boarding Adam McQuaid, Zdeno Chara punching Sidney Crosby, Crosby shoving Tuukka Rask, Evgeni Malkin's tussle with Bergeron, etc.

It will be interesting to see where this series goes, just as it's been interesting to see how calm it's been thus far. Compared to the Bruins' recent forays into late spring, this series has had the decency of a tea party.

With the series shifting back to Boston tonight, the Bruins will undoubtedly be fired up playing in front of a home crowd. For that reason, I expect the B's to push the envelope a bit more tonight, perhaps initiating a bit more physicality. If that's the case, the key obviously becomes toeing the line and staying out of the box.

Is that what will happen tonight? Maybe. After all, this is the Stanley Cup Final, one of the most (if not the most) intense battles for a championship in all of sports. There's a Marchand punching a Sedin or a Tim Thomas lunging tackle in this series somewhere.

It's only a matter of time until it comes out.

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