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It was hate that made it great

Facing worst enemies brought out Bruins’ best

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / February 11, 2011

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WILMINGTON — Cam Neely, a man who finds beauty in fights good, bad, and bad to the bone, spotted a familiar face in the Bruins dressing room following the club’s workout yesterday at Ristuccia Arena.

“So,’’ said Neely, his beaming countenance like that of a proud daddy pressed up against the window of the maternity ward, “how’d you like that last night?’’

And before the visitor could offer an opinion, the gleeful team president added, “You don’t like that stuff, do you?’’

That stuff, of course, was the delicious mayhem served up at TD Garden Wednesday night, the Bruins and Canadiens lighting up the arena with a raucous display of old-time hockey.

The Causeway Street bucket of blood featured a half-dozen fights, including Tim Thomas and Carey Price in a rare goalie toe-to-toe, part of a stream of skirmishes, headlocks, and tug-o-wars that electrified the sellout crowd of 17,565.

It was a night that had the Bruins, 8-6 winners, at their boiling-over best, and it reaffirmed the Hub’s everlasting love affair for hockey that mirrors the Big, Bad Bruins of yore.

It’s a vastly different game and a far more politically correct league than the stage filled by those ’60s and ’70s Bruins, but Black-and-Gold fans are nothing if not suckers for nostalgia, for ice cluttered with sticks and gloves, for right crosses, left jabs, and penalty boxes jammed tighter than a Park Street trolley at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

“I knew we had it in us, absolutely,’’ said veteran Bruins winger Mark Recchi, who once wore that CH crest on his sweater and knows well the hate between the two Original Six franchises. “You know, I see it all as a building process. I think everyone in here realizes we’ll all do whatever it takes, whether that means take a hit, give a hit, get in a fight . . . whatever gets the job done, we’ll do it. It’s all part of it, the togetherness.’’

For a club that too often has been guilty of being slow to respond, and often less inclined to initiate, the show of force against the Habs perhaps signaled a significant change in Black-and-Gold ways. It was insult enough to see Marc Savard get his clock cleaned by the dastardly Matt Cooke last March, but it took days, 11 to be exact, for Cooke to be dealt his comeuppance in the form of a Shawn Thornton throttling at the Garden. Eleven days.

Adding insult to the protracted interlude, all the Bruins had to show for it in the end was a 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh and a 3-0 blanking at the Garden. And, oh, Savard’s addled brain.

Fireworks such as Wednesday night’s, beyond being just sheer entertainment, are more poignant and meaningful if they are a measure of a team’s unity, temperament, and, perhaps above all, ability to sense the moment.

The swashbuckling Bruins of the ’60s and ’70s didn’t ruminate over injustices for 11 days. Payback usually came in seconds, with perhaps the swipe of a Wayne Cashman glove across the face. The Bruins of Neely’s era, though far less decorated, meted out justice in a matter of minutes or shifts. Neely did a fair share of that himself, and his quick temper and faster punches bought him untold square feet of operating room up and down right wing.

Teams that get their dander up usually get their opponents to back off. To their credit, the Habs resisted a full retreat, which led to Jaroslav Spacek and Tom Pyatt each getting tattooed for their displays of honor. David Krejci took the worst of the beatings by the Bruins, one that had the Czech center quick to leave the ice after being branded by a Benoit Pouliot right to the chops. The most vicious beating of the eve was by Greg Campbell, who nearly turned Pyatt into fine French paté.

“If we want to be successful, it’s how we have to play,’’ explained Campbell, who has proven to be an integral piece of the Boston game plan since arriving with Nathan Horton in the trade that sent Dennis Wideman to Florida. “We are best when we are physical.’’

Conversely, they are at their underperforming worst when they are unable or unwilling to twitch their emotional trigger finger. It’s a team that is built on defense, the pillars being Thomas in net and captain Zdeno Chara on defense. It’s not a team that has gifted playmakers and scorers, which means, as with many teams in the Original 30, it needs emotion to bring out added energy and performance.

“It’s an indication of how our team can play,’’ explained Campbell, noting the fights and all-around display of energy vs. the Habs. “When we are playing like that, we are at our best.

“We have to play a physical game. We have to play with a lot of emotion. We’re not a team that can just go through the motions and play an easy end-to-end game. We have to go to the gritty areas and we have to battle.’’

The proof of that came in the win over the Habs, underscored by the half-dozen fights and the 182 penalty minutes. The Red Wings are in town tonight, another Original Six squad, sans the hate factor that exists between the Bruins and Canadiens. No telling what we’ll see.

But we’ll find out if Wednesday was simply a one-night fling back to a romantic time and place, or if the team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1972 finally realizes, once and for all, that heritage and hate are two of its greatest assets.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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