Monday’s Boston-Montreal game had all the makings of a playoff showdown between two historic rivals: Low-scoring, heavy-hitting hate.
Oh ya, and name-calling too.
Boston’s Milan Lucic took exception to a perfectly legal and beautifully thrown hip check by Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin in the first two minutes of the game. Lucic was carrying the puck down the ice and as he tried to move around Emelin, the defenseman used his positioning to perfection to end the Bruins rush.
It was Ryan Kennedy’s Highlight of the Night because it was a textbook check. Zdeno Chara went after Emelin as Lucic was on the ice, because NHLers often react irrationally to legal bodychecks on big-name players.
After the game, Lucic had a heated response to Emelin's hit that would make children on the playground proud.
“Whether it’s fair, legal, or whatever you want to call it, if he wasn’t scared, he would stand up and hit me and not go after my knees. It just shows how big of a chicken he is that he needs to go down like that to take me down. It shows what kind of player he is, and on my end, you know you’ve got to keep your guard up at all times.”
Speaking of keeping your guard up at all times, Lucic should perhaps have been aware of who he was up against last night. It's no secret what kind of a player Emelin is, after all. He has made a name for himself as a frequent and efficient hip checker, perhaps the best at it in the NHL today. There’s a difference between going after a player’s knees and laying a text book hip check on him – Emelin did the latter and pretty clearly hits Lucic more in the midsection and not directly at the knees. When thrown properly, hip checks aren't cheap, they're a smart and advantageous play used by the undersized player.
It’s fair and legal and that’s what we’re going to call it. If Emelin steps up on Lucic, chances are he misses the Bruins forward who is trying to skate around him with momentum and Boston goes in for a scoring chance. Instead, Emelin played his position as well as you can in that situation and knocked the big tree over to end the play.
What Lucic should have done is take note of who hit him and come back with his own shoulder force later in the game, time and again. Instead, Lucic answered with this cheap play, which is entirely illegal, unfair and cowardly. It was also an "oof" moment for the men watching at home.
So after being so upset about Emelin’s highlight hit, what did Lucic have to say about this play?
“Just skating by him and that’s all. People are trying to say I speared him. I did not spear him, so that’s it.”
It’s in Boston’s makeup to try and intimidate a smaller team like the Canadiens. In the second period, Johnny Boychuk hit P.K. Subban cleanly, but completely overreacted to a harmless shove by Subban by tossing his gloves off for a fight, as if that was going to happen. The Habs defenseman then agitated Boychuk further by backing up into him for a love tap (and, really, that’s what it was people), before the two wrestled to the ice. In hindsight, both players should have received two minute penalties on the play, but when you throw your gloves all over the ice for no reason, it draws attention from the referee. The Bruins ended up with the only penalty on that play because while Boston’s physical nature is most often a strength, it can become a weakness when they get frustrated or overreact and the other team refuses to engage. And there was really nothing to engage over on either Subban’s or Emelin’s hit.
Lucic logged a game-high seven hits after being poked early in the game, but Emelin scored Montreal’s regulation goal and didn’t come off as a screaming child after the game.
Lucic is often literally the bigger man on most nights. Monday night, however, Emelin was a bigger man than the Bruin who should be using his natural force to respond rather than whiny words.