On hockey

Perceived dirty work starts to leave tarnish

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 22, 2012
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This is going the wrong way for the Bruins, and I’m not talking about yesterday’s final score, the 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers on Causeway Street in a dense, heavy afternoon of hockey.

As to the game itself, it came as advertised, the 1-2 teams in the East hammering away on each other for nearly 65 minutes, contesting every inch of ice and battling big-time along the boards and in front of the net. What it lacked in finesse, it gave back in punishing, grinding perfection. It took courage to play it, and both teams delivered.

But the end provided yet another chapter to the NHL’s perpetual black eye and the growing perception around the league that the Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, have morphed into a dirty team.

At some point, you become what others believe you are - perception is the virus that worms its way into and devours reality - and Andrew Ference’s bad hit on Ryan McDonagh 1:50 into overtime added another log to the fire of hate for all things Black-and-Gold.

“I didn’t get a good look at it,’’ said Rangers forward Brad Richards, referring to Ference’s dump of McDonagh into the end boards. “I was on the bench, sucking water, but from talking to our guys, yeah, that’s the stuff we want taken out of the game. Hey, we keep talking about it, and then we keep going out there and doing it to each other - so we’re the only ones to blame.’’

“One of the most dangerous hits I’ve seen in a while,’’ added Rangers coach John Tortorella, making clear his belief that Ference should be suspended.

It now rests with Brendan Shanahan, the league’s disciplinarian and quality control engineer, to figure out what to do about Boston’s latest egregious faux pas.

The Bruins, who are in Philadelphia this afternoon, called up young defenseman Steven Kampfer from Providence before they left the building. Clearly, management is bracing for Ference to get the heave-ho, and the bet here is that he is told to sit for at least a couple of games. The call on the ice was 5 minutes for boarding and a game misconduct.

The Rangers said after the win that they would provide no update on McDonagh’s condition until today. Dumped head-first into the rear boards at high speed by Ference, he appeared to take the brunt of the blow to his left shoulder and collarbone, but his head also was impacted. He may be yet another NHLer to join the growing fraternity of the addled and concussed.

Ference, though not offering an out-and-out apology, conceded he should have slowed down. He also should have resisted the urge to drive McDonagh three rows into the loge, and he clearly had that choice. He had a good look at the No. 27 on the back of McDonagh’s sweater, which means he was obligated not to deliver the check. Obligation ignored.

And this from a player who last year called out teammate Danny Paille for a bad hit on the Stars’ Ray Sawada. Ference took ample grief around the league for calling out a teammate, but it was the right thing to do. As Richards said, it’s the players who keep doing this to one another. The brain injuries won’t end until they stop dishing them out.

“Obviously, I was going very fast,’’ said Ference. “You try to let up, hold up, and do what they teach you. But obviously it was a bad end result with him going in pretty hard.’’

Two Saturdays earlier, also in a Garden matinee, Brad Marchand made a dastardly trick move on Vancouver’s Sami Salo, taking out the defenseman’s legs and leaving him concussed. Suspension: five games. That deed came just over a month after Marchand slew-footed Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen. Dirty trick move, but no suspension for that.

Early this year, Milan Lucic came perilously close to being suspended for knocking into Buffalo’s Ryan Miller when the Sabres goalie strayed far from his net. I didn’t think it merited a suspension, and Shanahan felt the same.

But in many ways, that set the tone around the league this season, fans and media beginning to wag fingers and grumble that the Big, Bad Bruins were back doing business like their 1970s forefathers.

The Ference hit came a year to the day that Marc Savard was concussed, on a clean hit by Matt Hunwick, in Colorado. Savard was in the stands yesterday, and based on his pregame chat with the media, it’s highly unlikely he will play again. He has the all-too-familiar sullen look of those trying to overcome a brain injury.

Ference’s hit on McDonagh wasn’t as punishing as the Randy Jones blast on Patrice Bergeron in October 2007, but it was similar in that a vulnerable player was nailed on the rear boards at high speed.

It’s a fine line here, playing on the edge and playing dirty. Every team in the league needs to play on the edge to deliver positive results. That’s today’s game.

But Marchand and now Ference have gone from the edge of fairness to the badlands of bad hits. When that happens, thanks to Shanahan, consequences follow. And reputations get set in stone.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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