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.”
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.