The Boston Bruins are the toughest team in the NHL.
The above statement is both true and untrue. It would be difficult to prove it by any objective measure. In the era of their dominance, they’ve never led the League in any of the standard metrics of thuggery. They don’t have the most fights, the most hits, or the most penalty minutes. They’re not the biggest team or the dirtiest. Although they appear with some regularity in the Annals of Controversial Incidents, they’re not even close to cornering the market on terrifying plays. If a skeptical alien came down to Earth today and asked us to demonstrate, with clear logic and pure evidence, that the Bruins are tougher than everyone else, we would disappoint it badly.
And yet, somehow, this is something we all know. Not because we have data or proof, but because we’ve seen the games, and in seeing the games, we see something in Boston- not constantly, but consistently- that speaks to us of violence. Sometimes it whispers, other times it screams, but it’s always there. It’s in Chara’s mad eyes, in Lucic’s f*&k-you snarl, in Marchand’s shameless dirtiness, in Thornton’s old-school pugnacity. Even their players who don’t especially represent any kind of danger or aggression it in their own game carry these traces, as if it’s rubbed off on them like dandelion pollen. They have the swagger of men who won’t back away from a fight, and are apt to start one for no good reason.
Last night, a friend who’s hockey fanaticism is so casual it barely even counts as attention- I dunno, the Bruins just seem like dicks. I don’t like that guy, I don’t like the way he plays, I don’t like his face. You know the one. This morning, a headline in my inbox- The Chara Factor looms over Final. When we speak of the Bruins, we speak of them in the language appropriate to school bullies and the Red Menace, without even realizing that we’re doing so. Their toughness has become a social fact without ever being an actual one. We don’t know it for any specific reason, we just know. It is known.