Earlier this season Steve Dangle wrote one of my favourite posts of the year, using a great bit by the late stand-up comedian Patrice O’Neal on the concept of ”the punk test.”

O’Neal talked about getting robbed as a teenager; before it actually happened, his attacker issued him The Punk Test. Dangle compared that to what the Bruins were (at the time) doing to the rest of the NHL, and to the way they beat the Canucks in the Finals and won the Stanley Cup last season.

From Dangle’s piece and O’Neal’s bit:

“It’s like five phases,” Patrice explains, only half-joking. “I bump into you, you go ‘there was enough room for me and you to walk without you bumping into me.’ Then it’s like a step on your foot, then it’s like a hard pinch. He’s doing recon.”

After issuing the punk test, the bully makes his move.

“I tried to be hardcore, but he had already given me the punk test. I failed miserably.”

Basically, if you’re someone who lacks the ability or interest to shove back, you’re a patsy to be taken for your ”4X tall Puma suit” to quote O’Neal, or in hockey terms, your two points.

At some point, NHL teams adapt to what’s beating them. They adapt on players (think Alex Ovechkin), and they adapt on teams.

The Bruins were, and are, a talented hockey team, but it was the muscle that allowed their skill guys the time and space to be effective. There’s no denying they have great depth, but you wouldn’t say that the Bruins have an especially dangerous, pure sniper while they wait for Seguin to get there (which makes them miss Nathan Horton all that much more). It was their toughness that allowed them to score by committee, and kept teams from getting overly assertive with them.

And in the wake of being Stanley Cup champions, they had punked so many hockey teams that they didn’t even have to actually do it anymore. Teams respected their authoritah, and the Bruins kept on rolling. It looked similar to guys going up against Tiger Woods and his red shirt on Sundays in his prime – half the time they were so intimidated they beat themselves. That allowed the B’s to look like world-beaters at times in the season’s early going.

To me, the turning point was when Milan Lucic ran Ryan Miller, and nobody, including 6’5″ Paul Gaustad, did anything about it. The Sabres, and everybody else in the League it appears, seemed to have the same collective epiphany that Dangle did when he wrote his post in November. They cringed. “You just can’t take that. You just can’t roll over without at least trying to answer the punk test.”

Dangle wrote:

After a rough start for the Boston Bruins, the reigning champions have their swagger back. Unless somebody passes the Bruins’ punk test, it’s possible things will stay that way.

I think the Sabres (and other teams) left with the same message that day. The first chance Gaustad got to right his wrong, he did (whether he wanted to or not, it was something he had to do).

And so, for the Bruins, it began.

They had a long, long 2010-2011 season, in which they played 107 games and went all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. That game, according to my calculations, wrapped up eight seconds before this season’s training camps began. That’s tough on the body.

After their initial “Stanley Cup hangover” subsided, they used the respect they had earned to own the league for awhile.

But not long after the Lucic/Miller moment, it looked like teams decided they were sick of being embarrassed – they knew that every time they played the Bruins, they were going to have to bring it physically to match them. They were going to have to get up, and push back. Coaches knew it too, and certainly weren’t afraid to dress their muscle going into games against Boston.

And so, every game became a playoff game for the Bruins. A knock-down, drag-out playoff game. Whether Boston won most of the physical confrontations or not, they’ve been forced to engage more than any other team in the NHL this season, and that’s only fair – they made their bed, they chose their style.

And with the energy it takes to get up for those games, both emotionally and physically, you can find yourself running on empty in a hurry.

And here we are now, after the Bruins played out that long season, and are almost through another one that’s consisted of nothing but near-playoff games, reading more and more “tired and hurt” articles from those who know the team best.

Well, there’s a reason for that – I say they’re tired and hurt.

It hasn’t been in their best interest with their mounting injuries, yet they still find themselves second in the NHL in fighting majors, second in PIMS, first in misconducts and first in game misconducts. I’m not entirely sure that’s been by their choosing in the second half of the season.

The Bruins still aren’t a team you care to see in the first round of the playoffs when they ramp it up (assuming they’re able to), I just can’t see them being able to muster the energy to make it through another four rounds with the way they play, especially when teams know how the Bruins intend to beat them. They’ll be ready.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Like a boxer who’s punched himself out, the Bruins finally seemed backed into the corner, desperately waiting for the bell.

Comments (21)

  1. Good post, man. Nice to see an avoidance of any White House chatter when it comes to the Bruins woes.

    I’m not quite sure about using that particular Sabres game as any sort of turning point, though. Boston rolled over team pretty handily through December, including a 6-0 win over Philly, 8-0 over Florida & 9-0 over Calgary. It was more into January that things seemed to go off the rails, especially after the Canucks game where they lost Marchand for 5 games. That was a perfect example of the ‘die by the sword’ idea you’re talking about.

    Add key injuries & faitgue from a long run last year into the mix, and it adds up to serious question marks for the Champs moving forward.

    As a fan, I’m hoping they can hold on to the 2nd seed and at least win a round, maybe two.

    • As I mentioned on twitter, I agree – the Bruins definitely did well after that game (and before it), I just think it had to be an eye-opener, and was probably the start of teams realizing what had to happen… There’s probably no “moment” things got hard, but the point remains the same – teams are biting back now, and it has to be wearing on them.

  2. I would definately take a look back at the Canucks game. I think they gave the league a blueprint for teams to use which is basically not backing down no matter what…not trying to get penalties but basically staring down the bully to see who flinches first.

    • The Canucks game was a travesty in officiating.

      The Canucks did not fight in that game and backed down at every possible opportunity, the one instance they did fight involved 6 players on 1 and then resulted in a first line forward for Boston being thrown out of the game incorrectly. That game was not a blue print it was a joke.

      I think this article is correct in saying they are tired and hurt, but I feel a greater emphasis needs to be on hurt. They are without two top 9 forwards and due to this have gone from being a team that could roll three lines that can score, to having 1.5 lines.

      The loss of Peverly really hurts as he was a great all around player who on the third line shined and could be moved up based upon need.

      Beyond being tired and injured, the way Boston games are being officiated has been completely reactionary to teams complaining. The Bruins can do no right in the officials eyes, and in Shanahan’s opinion there is no need to pass out punishment on opposing teams cheap shots.

      Both Horton and Peverly are out due to illegal plays, the hit on Horton occurred atleast a second after the puck was released and Peverly was the victim of a Knee on Knee hit that should have lead to some form of discipline. These events were ignored while Shanahan saw the need to say a hit by Marchand was “clean” but he “did not like it”…this comment shows a clear bias, that should not exist within the ranks of the NHL disciplinary chief.

      • Aw, the Bruins are getting the short end of the discipline stick? How sad. Maybe this makes up for last season, when they were half-gifted the Stanley Cup by the NHL? Hmm…no, no I don’t think it does. Until one Bruins player has his neck broken, another his back broken, a third gets punched in the face repeatedly, all with no calls or suspensions, but then a 4th gets an unjust suspension – well then Boston fans can start to complain. Until then, feel free to continue moaning

        • Excuse me?

          Patrice Bergeron was knocked out of hockey for an entire year by Randy Jones, who received a two-game suspension. Marc Savard can’t live a normal life because of Matt Cooke who received NOTHING by way of discipline. Nathan Horton still can’t skate, and Tom Sestito didn’t even get a penalty – but Horton did!

          And no Bruins player is going to get punched in the face repeatedly because no Bruins player would ever stand there and take it. Tell Sedin to push the little *** away next time. Oh, and BTW, there was a call – Marchand got two and ten. If the NHL isn’t going to hand out a suspension for biting, they sure as hell aren’t going to for bitch-slapping.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful, reasoned analysis. If I have to see/hear another “the Bruins have no HAAHT!” comment I’m going to hurt someone.

  4. I actually think this is starting to become true of the Rangers too. Nobody expected them to bring the physicality and ride their goaltending the way they have done. yet watching some of the more recent games teams have been stepping up. Last night for example Pittsburgh really upped the ante on the physical stuff.

    The Rangers didn’t have the answer when they were out toughed, out worked and out skilled. I have a feeling the Rangers could be out in the second round, which is a shame after such a good season!

  5. Really interesting JB – I am inclined to agree with you (and Paul). Well done.

  6. As an aside, it will be really interesting to see how teams play Vancouver in the playoffs this season. They failed the punk test last season and im betting any coach with half a brain will be testing them hard this time around.

    Nice article Bourne.

    • While teams may try and “punk test” the Canucks in the playoffs like Boston did, it will only work if they have the PK to back it up. Through the first 3 rounds, the PP was where the Canucks were killing teams, especially the Sharks. Boston succeeded in intimidating the Canucks because they knew they would kill off the penalty so they could really take a few liberties and get away with it.

      In the Boston-Vancouver game this season, the B’s tried the same thing as in the Finals and it didn’t work because their PK didn’t get the job done.

      • I agree. Teams will need to be capable of backing up their tough guy approach against Van, but the Canucks have shown to be vulnerable under these situations and I expect a lot of teams to take the approach. Conversely, Vancouver will have to be up to the task of capitalizing on every possible opportunity. If they aren’t scoring (not usually a problem for them) they haven’t demonstrated they are capable of pushing back in other ways.

  7. I don’t think what happened with Lucic and Miller did anything in terms of a wake up call. Other then to show the league that Buffalo had no stones. The B’s have been marked all year for physical play and after a long cup run, I believe they were the first team in history to play 3 game 7′s and win the cup, you can’t be too suprised that they are tired and beaten. Even then I look at how the B’s have played in a few games and you see the fire and the effort, but they are lacking some key parts of the team.

    First off you have Horton, who you may not consider an elite sniper, but he’s perfect for Lucic and Krejci. He’s got a great shot he gets to the dirty areas and when Lucic and him are on the ice people don’t get near as physical with Krecji. That line has great chemistry as well.

    Then you are looking at the lost of Peverly who is a great all around player. He can shoot, he can pass, he plays big PK minutes and quaterbacks the PP unit as well. Good face off man as well. Not an easy person to replace with AHLers.

    Losing Ference for as long as they have was terrible he’s a great defenseman for them and is one of the better puch movers and skaters. He goes great with a guy like McQuaid who isn’t as fast. Ference is also a very smart shooter.

    In general the team’s injuries are hurting everything from their PP to their PK and other teams are keying on the fact that it’s a team that is hurt and they are trying to hurt them more. The refs haven’t helped much either as it seems like a B’s player sneezes and gets a penlty lately. Krejci’s unsportsmanlike the other day was a perfect example.

  8. Sounds like what the Red Wings have gone through over the last 20 years. Every game for them is a playoff game.

  9. Ridiculous.

    As Ellen Etchingham wrote today

    “People who are deeply committed to self-created narratives about things they cannot possibly know, things like passion level and work ethic and chemistry in the room, will always be blindsided by regression. It’s their destiny, the price they pay for not being interested in tangible evidence that has proven itself true repeatedly in the past. But, while the bad-narrative believers may be the most aggressive shock-troops of the anti-regression crowd, I don’t think the entire backlash against the way the advanced stats community talks about regression and luck is entirely comprised of such people. Because I know how regression works. I know what constitutes an unsustainable shooting percentage and an unsustainable save percentage. I am a PDO believer. I understand these concepts, I support them, I believe wholly in their validity and legitimacy, and I do not rely on narratives of personality to provide meaning in hockey for me. And yet, despite all of that, I still get the impulse to lash back every now and then.”

    • Great insight from Ellen, but she’s not addressing the same thing as Bourne, IMO. Bourne isn’t creating a narrative about Bruin’s players character or heart or will to win. He’s suggesting that teams have adjusted to the Bruins style, and the ensuing highly physical “playoff style” games it has created have been exhausting for the Bruins (compounded by a long playoff run). This sounds like a pretty sensible theory.

      It’s not the whole picture obviously (natural regression, and the unfortunate injuries are also part of the story of the B’s season) but it does provide a partial explanation for why the Bruins are playing the way they are right now.

      • Ellen also wrote “Moreover, as outsiders- outside the room, outside the heads of the relevant parties- we cannot know anything about the real emotional and psychological characteristics of players. Narratives that locate the critical differences between winning and losing in feelings and character traits are at best exaggerations and at worst completely made-up shit that turn real people into fictional characters in the fantasy psychodramas of fans.”

        Justin is doing just that when he speaks about answering or not answering “the punk test” and that teams are intimidated or not by the Bruins. He’s also doing that when stating the Bruins style is takes more energy, etc…

        But let’s say Boston is tired. Would their current “exhaustion” not have been tempered by an extremely easy go of it in November and December when they were winning easily over the likes of Florida and Calgary. Or would it not have been tempered by the fact the Bruins have yet to travel across 3 time zones this season, while some western teams have crossed 3 time zones 10 times already this season. Or perhaps we could use the “tired” theory to argue Boston was not the better or tougher team in the finals, but beat a more tired Vancouver team that travelled 50% more during the season and 200% more during the playoffs.

        See, for every “fantasy psychodrama” that is put out there, like this “punk test theory”, I can guess on stuff “I cannot know anything about” and theorize the exact opposite. And it’s an equally effective argument because there’s no evidence backing it up either.

  10. Yes, it all makes sense now with this. Especially when you see Lucic get decked by NYRangers Boyle in January and by Girardi 2 times within the same game. Pittsburgh absolutely unrelentless assault on Chara this past week. Every team has been attacking with physicality and you know what, the Bruins toughness usually prevailed. I can understand the slump when you are taxed more than any other team with the fighting they endure.
    Bergeron starting a fight which didn’t happen, but that just goes to show that the toughness and fight left in him when he sees others “going through the motions.” They have to get that willpower and heart or rather the PRIDE to be who they are. I see this team suffering with the new additions Chiarelli made. How much of a boost is getting an oldtimer like Rolston or the below average defensemen. Turco is far beyond his prime. Nothing at the deadline gave these guys, the regulars, even a hint of hope. These days suck as a fan.

  11. the Bruins are tired and that’s why they are not succeeding this year?

    come on. they won the cup mid-June.

    they started training camp mid-September.

    that’s like 90 sleeps. sure they partied through the summer, and probably started working out a month before training camp.

    but it’s still 2 months resting, at least.

    i don’t buy the ‘they’re tired’ argument. these are highly conditioned athletes. 60 days is plenty of recovery time.

    • Really? You think they took 2 months off? Haha. Dude, they were back working out 2 weeks after winning the cup, I think the longest vacation I heard of a Bruin taking was 3 weeks. Other guys will not only not have 3, 7 game series and a longer offseason but will usually use that longer offseason to take around a month off or so from hockey to just relax their body and minds. Then they begin light workouts and ramp it up.

      The Stanley Cup champions (regardless of who that is) don’t have that luxury.

  12. Great post. I hadn’t really thought of it this way, but it makes a lot of sense. Being the bully in the schoolyard means you’re going to be in a lot of physical confrontations, especially when teams decide that they want to fight back. And that style of play, over a season, has got to be exhausting.

    Maybe its a coincidence, but that Canucks-Bruins game seems like it changed something. The Bruins record after that game changed pretty drastically. And since the B’s were beat by a team that had been perceived as being bullied during the Finals, did that sned a message to other teams? That the B’s were beatable? Just spitballin’

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