After two games against the Washington Capitals, the Boston Bruins weren't mad as hell, and coach Claude Julien couldn't take it anymore. So he told them as much before Monday's Game 3.
"I said the emotional level of that series wasn't where I wanted it to be, knowing our hockey club, and we had to elevate that and get a little bit more involved," Julien said.
Mission accomplished, as the Bruins outhit and outmuscled the Capitals to win 4-3 and take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. More importantly, they established a whole different game after the whistle: the kind of hockey they want to play.
"We definitely got more emotionally involved. We played our physical game, which is important to us," defenseman Greg Zanon said. "It's the way our team plays, and we need to play that way every night. I think it gets us going and it gets us revved up to play north-south hockey."
The Caps don't mind hitting, as they dished it out as well as they took it in Game 1. "We can handle it," coach Dale Hunter said. But they were pushed around in Game 3, especially in some post-whistle scrums.
Boston's game plan of trying to knock Washington's skill players off their game worked so well that there's little doubt it will continue for Thursday's Game 4 and beyond, even though Bruins center Chris Kelly de-emphasized the extracurricular activity.
"Sometimes there are shoving matches. That's hockey; that's playoff hockey. I know this group will never back down from that," Kelly said. "But we don't want to be known as a team that after the whistle we're always getting involved with things like that. We want to play hard between the whistles and be that big, physical, honest hockey team."
But the Bruins are better when they have the pushing, shoving and face-washing going after plays are over. It fires them up, and Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said it carried Boston to a Stanley Cup championship last season.
The Capitals aren't concerned about it.
"They seem to push the other team around. And for us, we have enough big players that we're not going to get intimidated by that sort of thing," Brouwer said. "Our focus is on what happens in between the whistles. Anything after the whistles is for the refs to sort out. You can't win games after the whistle's blown."
Not directly, for sure. But it hurts Washington when center Nicklas Backstrom and forward Alexander Semin among others are being punished after whistles.
Backstrom picked up a match penalty at the final buzzer Monday night for cross-checking Boston forward Rich Peverley in the face, though Hunter said he was defending himself and that it came after a few games' worth of shots to the head of a star player who missed 40 games with a concussion.
Asked if he thought the Bruins were targeting Backstrom's head, Hunter responded, "Oh yeah."
"It is crossing the line," the Caps' coach said. "To grab his head all the time is not the right way to play."
And though the Capitals and Bruins have a long way to go before this series turns into the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh blood feud, in which melees and cheap shots are all the rage, referees may tighten up on post-whistle scrums to keep things under control.
At that point, it's up to the Bruins to play on edge without losing an edge.
"As a team, you worry about the approach that your team's going to take and try to keep them as disciplined as possible, and go from there," Julien said. "[But] you also ... need some emotion in this game. And I think any fan that loves the game of hockey is loving the emotions that are out there right now, minus the unnecessary crap that crosses the line."
The Caps understood all along that the Bruins thrive on the borderline. And though the animosity took a few games to build up, they also know it will continue to swell.
"You get sick of competing against them," forward Brooks Laich said. "There's some verbal jousting, I guess you would say. It's all in competition. You know, they're going to try to do whatever they can to get us off our game, and we're going to try the same to them."
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