Is intimidation important in the NHL?
In hockey, there are two types of intimidation.
There’s the kind of mental intimidation a team imposes before a game — where a team knows it will win games before the puck is even dropped (The great Soviet Union teams of the 1970s and 1980s will attest). And then there’s the other, more obvious kind: physical intimidation.
The Boston Bruins are the poster boys of physical intimidation.
Lost in the Bruins’ steamrolling over the Sabres on Saturday night was when Ryan Miller came out of his crease to play the puck and saw Milan Lucic — all 220 pounds of him — barreling down on him and hitting him at full speed. Miller got up quickly and had some choice words for Lucic after the game, but for the most part, the Sabres didn’t really respond and fight back.
Now I could give you the ol’ Don Cherry spiel about how players should be policing themselves and how if you do something that violates the hockey player code, you’re going to pay the price. But that issue’s been beaten to death, so I’ll spare you that.
The Lucic fiasco last night harshly reminded me of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when Brad Marchand used Daniel Sedin’s head as a human speed bag, clocking him with six jabs before a referee stepped in. Daniel Sedin, like the Sabres last night, didn’t fight back. The Canucks, on that night, with the game already out of hand, didn’t fight back.
And looking back, that incident might’ve been the final nail in the coffin for the Canucks. With their blueline already depleted, the Canucks’ inability to fight back gave the Bruins the kind of mental advantage they’d need to win Game 7. For so much of this series, the Bruins bulldozed and bullied their way en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it leaves me curious as to what the end result would have been if the Canucks not absorbed all the bullying the Bruins laid down on them.
That kind of intimidation is a big part of how the Bruins operate. Physically, they’re a daunting team; Lucic, Nathan Horton, Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk are all over 215 pounds, while Zdeno Chara at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds is the undisputed king of intimidation.
It’ll be important to keep this x-factor in the back of your mind when the playoffs roll around again in April. You get the sense Mike Gillis keyed in on that intimidation when he brought in Byron Bitz (6-foot-5, 215) and Dale Weise (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) into the fold. You can also bet the team is hoping Aaron Volpatti will keep up his physical play for long stretches, too.