The Bruins took Game 2 against the Maple Leafs on Saturday with a 4-1 win in Boston. Though they won with a large margin of victory on the scoreboard, the game was much closer in terms of physicality.
Both teams played as if each player had a vendetta assigned to some random opponent that they needed to take care of. It was a mentality that even showed up on the stat sheet. For context, the other three games had hit totals of 56 (Caps-Canes), 44 (Avalanche-Flames) and 40 (Preds-Stars). This game had 83, and it didn’t even require an overtime period. A lot of the hits were examples of good physical play that most would consider standard in the playoffs—stuff like this hit from Toronto’s Jake Muzzin on Torey Krug:
But there were other hits as well that the refs were letting slide because they either didn’t see them or they happened to look “clean enough” for a playoff game. Players were getting sticks shoved into their faces, their skulls crashed into boards and frequently broke out into full-on wrestling matches during every other stoppage of play. While the merits of whether a ref should “swallow their whistles” during play can be debated until the end of time, one thing that can’t be denied is that choosing to go with that officiating style early often leads to players escalating things to dangerous levels. Case in point, you have Nazem Kadri’s hit to the head of Jake DeBrusk.
There is a little context here. Earlier in the game, as he was leaving the penalty box, Kadri went to steal the puck from a Bruin. Once he got possession of it, DeBruk tried to lay a hit on the Maple Leaf. Depending on your perspective, DeBruk either tried to go for the knee-to-knee collision, or Kadri brought it upon himself for trying to dodge the hit and made incidental contact with the Boston player’s knee.
Regardless, Kadri believed the hit was on purpose and because, from a player’s perspective, the lines between clean and dirty plays was blurred beyond recognition, he felt the only way he was going to get any sort of justice for the hit was to get it himself. The hit was certainly dirty, but the thinking behind the act wasn’t too far out there—though I doubt that’s an argument that will help him in his upcoming player safety hearing.
The feeling that the refs weren’t going to do anything appeared to be shared among the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Though the montages of the big hits that happened throughout the game featured physicality from both teams, it was only Toronto’s players that were seen complaining to officials because they thought they were on the receiving end of a dirty play. This either happened because the Maple Leafs are a bunch of whiners—as noted pissbaby Don Cherry argued—or because the refs actually missed some calls, which Toronto coach Mike Babcock acknowledged while also chastising his players.
“The referees, the way they reffed the game, let a lot of stuff go,” Babcock said. “You can’t let that get in the way of what you’re doing. Playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s worth it.
“Every game in this series is supposed to get better, it’s supposed to get harder. We have to elevate our game here and respond.”
Babcock is right here in that both things can be true: the refs missed a lot of calls, and his team needs to do better in moving on from those botched plays if they want to succeed.
The Leafs will certainly hope to elevate their game to continue making this a competitive series, but they’ll probably also hope that the officials elevate their game as well so as to stop things from getting worse on the ice. Otherwise, someone might end up taking Sean Avery’s advice and “take the top fucking row” of a player’s teeth out.