CHICAGO | Hockey is more docile than it was in the 1970s.
Whacking another player in the head with a stick now draws a suspension rather than a two-minute minor. Bench-clearing brawls ended in the Reagan Administration. Even the officials wear helmets.
But there is still room for the booming body check and the icy glare as a chaser. The Boston Bruins showcase that.
The pride of the Hub is a team of skill, but skill combined with the grit and gristle that the Bruins teams of the 1970s, from the original Big, Bad Bruins of Pie McKenzie and Derek Sanderson to those of Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely, brought to the old Boston Garden every night.
Neely is not the current president of the Bruins because he’s another pretty face, because he isn’t. Rather, he imbues the attitude of what it is to be a Bruin. And in Boston, that works from Beacon Hill to the Back Bay.
This team trailed Toronto by three goals with less than 10 minutes left in Game 7 of their first round series. They were as dead as a beaver hat, then rallied to tie the game, scoring twice after pulling goaltender Tuukka Rask, and winning the game and series in overtime.
From that came a lesson learned.
“Once you have a team down you can’t let up, because they can come back,” right wing Nathan Horton said. “Then you’re standing there and wondering what happened. When you get an advantage, you have to put on the gas.”
Boston did so against the New York Rangers, winning in five games, and against Pittsburgh, sweeping in four. Now come the Blackhawks. The franchises haven’t met in the playoffs since 1978, and never have met with the Stanley Cup on the line. But both teams have rebuilt from some moribund seasons – the Hawks were simply awful, the Bruins less so – and now each chases a second Stanley Cup in recent times. The Bruins won two years ago, the Hawks three.
To Andrew Ference, the Bruins’ stay-at-home defenseman, that means the oohs and ahs of the past are in the past. This is not his first Final rodeo.
“The first time around, it’s probably like your first time in a Ferrari,” Ference said. “I’ve never driven a Ferrari, but it’s probably eyes wide open and your heart’s going 100 mph. A month after you’ve had it, maybe it’s not quite so exciting.
“The first time around, you’re taking everything in, and there’s so much going on. You’ve had years as a kid dreaming about what it’s going to be like and it’s almost like you’re finally able to live those dreams. It’s nice, it’s a good feeling, but it’s hard to turn it off. When it’s 3 in the morning and your eyes are still wide open, it’s not a good thing when you’re trying to prepare for a game. When you’re on the ice and you have too many things in your head about what’s going on, the situation you’re in, it’s not a good thing.
“I think you learn those lessons of being able to quiet your mind, turn things off. It was a big help, for sure. You can see it in some of the guys this time around, who went though it for the first time in 2011. It’s a toned down emotional level for a lot of guys, and I see that as a positive.
“There’s a line to draw. We don’t want to be sociopaths and not feel anything. You want to enjoy the moment and have fun, because that’s when most guys play their best, when they’re enjoying it. You have to find a way to cap it and find that level for yourself.”
That said, Ference will level the first Hawk to come his way if he has to.
The Bruins have won five straight and nine of their last 10. In the playoffs, that qualifies as white hot. But the Hawks had won 11 straight going into the 1992 Final against Pittsburgh, and the Penguins swept them.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too big an advantage, but you hope your experience in these situations can help you at the end of the day,”
Left wing Milan Lucic said. “I’m sure this Final is going to be different from the Final we were in in 2011, and different than the Final they were in in 2010.”
There will be one constant: it will be bruising.