For once, the Bruins didn’t look like a wounded animal during their 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at TD Garden. Yet, they had a close call with another near injury.
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy, playing in his second game since returning from a concussion, received a near scare when Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman delivered a late blindside — and unnecessary — hit. The former Boston University standout skated to the tunnel under his own power and returned to the bench in the final minutes in time to celebrate Boston’s first win following its three-game losing streak.
Hyman will likely hear from the Department of Player Safety following his game misconduct. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is hoping for appropriate justice.
“I thought it was late. I thought it was unnecessary,” Cassidy said postgame.
“It’s one of those things where you’re at a point in the game, hasn’t been a lot of body checking from the other team and all of a sudden there’s a late unsuspecting one, and it annoys you, especially when it’s Charlie, who just came back. So you’re wondering are they targeting him or not? You don’t know that. I’d like to think it was just a guy playing hard and got there late and didn’t pull up, but our guys responded well.”
Taking liberties is a thing in the NHL these days when they notice the opposition missing key players. The Bruins have their share of marquee players out of the lineup, including McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller — to name a few — during the first three months of the 2018-19 season.
This common thread is paving the way toward the league putting less of an emphasis of the players policing the game and more of the on-ice officials stepping in to keep things from escalating. Enforcers are slowly becoming extinct in part because of this development. There are fewer players answering to the likes of Shawn Thornton for dirty plays.
Hyman engaged in a bout with McAvoy’s defensive partner Matt Grzelcyk after his unnecessary hit. It’s hardly ideal for a skilled puck mover like Grzelcyk to drop the gloves in any situation, but the Charlestown native stepped in after seeing his fellow former BU Terrier go down.
“I actually didn’t see it at the time. Just saw it after the game, so it’s obviously something you don’t like to see especially when you kind of have a lead like that,” Grzelcyk said. “So, just trying to stick up for my teammate there.”
It didn’t end there. Fourth line winger Chris Wagner delivered a crushing center ice hit on Morgan Rielly before dropping the gloves with Ron Hainsey — Rielly’s defensive partner — moments later.
Wagner, who isn’t shy about fighting, sent one last message to the hapless Leafs.
“He was the one with the puck so you can’t really cheap-shot someone. I thought it was a pretty clean hit for the most part, stayed on my feet,” the Walpole native said. “When something like that happens to Charlie you want to respond in the correct way.”
“I think the response from those hits come, and we’ve talked to our team about that,” Cassidy added. “Listen, you just have to be hard on their skill. Not dirty, but hard, and Chris Wagner I thought had a great response. You hit a guy in open ice with his shoulder, had his head down. That usually takes a little bit of wind out of the sails if that’s how you want to finish a hockey game.”
The Bruins dished out the pain and the goals against their Original Six rivals. They came together to overcome their three-game skid and came to McAvoy’s aid during a spirited night on Causeway Street.
The two teams meet again in Toronto on Jan. 12 for the fourth and final time in the regular season. They’ll likely be neck and neck in the Atlantic Division playoff race. This, combined with the fallout from Saturday, marks one last chance before April to make a lasting impression.
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