A real flair for flareups

When Bruins are physical, they win

Backed Boychuk
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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WILMINGTON - In the third period of Saturday night’s 7-2 win over Toronto, the Bruins’ Andrew Ference saw Lee Stempniak throw a questionable hit on Johnny Boychuk. Ference skated into the fray, gave Stempniak a jolt, and the confrontation escalated into a four-minute roughing penalty for both players.

“The mood of the game was pretty fiery and the score of the game was pretty far out,’’ Ference said. “[Boychuk’s] a young guy. He got caught in a vulnerable position. It wasn’t that dirty. I didn’t go over there to start a fight. I just went over there to help him out and give the guy a little push.’’

Earlier in the third, two seconds after the Bruins scored their seventh goal, Jamal Mayers asked Steve Begin to fight. Begin accepted.

There were two other flareups - Shawn Thornton throwing down with Colton Orr, Mayers and Mark Stuart shedding the mitts for a brief tangle - in the five-goal drubbing.

It was, most likely, no coincidence that with the clashes came a win.

Three times this season, the Bruins have recorded two or more fights in a game. All three times, they have won.

On the other hand, some of the Bruins’ worst outings - last Friday’s 5-1 stinker against Montreal the latest example - have come when they’ve tucked their tails and sleepwalked through a game without showing any resistance.

“We’ve touched on that a few times this year,’’ Ference said. “There’s certain teams you play against that let you sleep. I’m sure that’s what some teams like to do with us, let some of our guys sleep.

“The onus comes upon yourself to create your own emotion in the game. Get yourself engaged without having to be pulled in by the other team. It’s something that can slip away from your game if it’s not brought to your attention.’’

On Oct. 24 against the Senators, Byron Bitz fought Matt Carkner. Carkner went a second time with Thornton, then Begin took on Chris Neil after the Ottawa bruiser bowled over Dennis Wideman. The Bruins rallied and scored a 4-3 shootout victory.

On Nov. 7 against Buffalo, Thornton accepted Steve Montador’s invitation. Thornton then punished Paul Gaustad after the forward threw a borderline hit on Bitz. Stuart rounded out the fisticuffs by getting the better of Jochen Hecht following a scrum in front of the Boston net. The Bruins beat the Sabres, 4-2.

“We’ve got to stick up for each other,’’ Begin said. “And not just fights. If a guy loses a one-on-one battle in the corner, somebody’s got to go stick up for him by getting the puck or covering for him. When we play like that, we’re most successful. When we lose battles and guys are shaking their heads, we show the other team that we’re beaten and we’re not going to give the effort.’’

In the last few years, the Bruins have been a club that thrives on emotion. Ference cited a 5-1 win over Dallas on Nov. 1, 2008, as a pivotal game for the 2008-09 team. There was Ference laying out Steve Ott, then taking on Sean Avery. There was Thornton drawing a roughing double minor for pounding Ott after the agitator threw a low hit on Stephane Yelle. To top it off, there was the all-out fracas touched off by Avery’s hit from behind on Milan Lucic that prompted Marc Savard to jump in the pile and Shane Hnidy to pummel Matt Niskanen. The Bruins would lose only two games in November and December.

“Those games, when there were some big physical confrontations, were emotional games,’’ Ference said. “It was one of the games that defined our season. That’s something this team is good at. Even with personnel change, that attitude has stuck around. But it just doesn’t come for free.’’

The Bruins learned that lesson last week at the Bell Centre. They were healthy. They were playing their biggest rival. They had a crisp morning skate. Then they laid an egg, giving up four goals in the second period. Throughout the night, there were no examples of the hate they should have had for the Habs.

“If another team isn’t going to engage you - if they sit back more, you’re not getting hit as much, there’s not an intense forecheck, guys aren’t doing anything after the play, it’s a really quiet game - those kinds of games happen throughout a season,’’ Ference said. “If your team plays well with emotion, it’s your responsibility, even if you’re not getting hit or not getting a fierce forecheck, not to play the other team’s game.

“Good teams set the tone, they don’t react to the tone. We did that successfully last year. This year, when we’ve been winning games, we make other teams play our style of game.’’

Neither Wideman nor Derek Morris practiced yesterday at Ristuccia Arena for the second straight day. After practice, Wideman skated on his own with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. Coach Claude Julien said if Wideman (upper body) reacted well to yesterday’s skate, he will practice today. Julien said Morris (undisclosed) will practice today . . . The Bruins worked on finishing drills yesterday, the second of three straight practices prior to tomorrow’s rematch with the Leafs. “They came in here and lost, 7-2,’’ Julien said. “You think they’re going to come in here and do the same thing? They’re going to want to bounce back like we did from our shellacking in Montreal. We should expect an even tougher team.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

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