- Toronto's Nazem Kadri should see a lengthy suspension for his hit on Boston's Jake DeBrusk.
BOSTON — In the single most predictable development in the National Hockey League since the Atlanta Thrashers decamped for Anywhere Else, winding up in Winnipeg, the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs decided that there had been entirely too much fast skating and open-ice action in the first game of their Stanley Cup playoff series. So Boston came out throwing the Maple Leafs around like a autumn thunderstorm. The Leafs responded rather in kind and, by the time it was all over but the hum of the MRI machines, the Bruins had put Toronto away, 4-1, evening the series at a game apiece, and instilling in it the requisite amount of ill-feeling and bad-blood that gives life and meaning to a playoff series.
“Everybody has to pull on the rope,” said Boston defenseman Charlie McCoy. “We have to play to our identity.”
Which the Bruins did almost from the moment the puck first hit the ice. In all ways, they were more engaged in their work, forechecking ferociously and refusing the allow the breakaways that shredded them in the first game to get loose on Saturday. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with both Charlie Coyle and Brad Marchand beating Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen to the low corners. But it was Boston’s third goal, with 9:21 left in the second period, that both virtually put the game away, but that was the finest testimony to the difference in the Bruins between Thursday and Saturday night.
After taking a rather ordinary turn behind the Toronto goal, Maple Leaf winger William Nylander rather casually started up ice only to leave the puck behind, lying there flat and lonely at the left post. Unlike the first game, in which Boston seemed willing to allow the Toronto forwards to pick up steam at their leisure, Bruin Danton Neinen was standing right next to Nylander and poked the puck past Andersen who, frankly, didn’t seem to know what was going on around him. The appalling giveaway pretty much ended any chance that Toronto had, but that didn’t mean that the fun was over. In fact, it was just getting started. “We’re not a team that runs from a physical game,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “It brings out the best in us at times.
"We didn't play to our identity in Game 1. We all knew that. We were aware of it. How do you respond? You're physical. Win the puck battles. Control momentum in the first period. Attack when you have the chance. We hit a lot of check lists. Basically let them know how we're going to play."
"Their intensity was at a different level," said Toronto head coach Mike Babcock. "We didn't handle their forecheck and execute. It's nothing that we hadn't talked about or prepared for.”
Central to the ensuing festivities was a running battle between Boston’s Jake DeBrusk and Toronto’s Nazem Kadri. For his part, DeBrusk was coming back from a hard, headfirst slide into the boards as he tried to catch Toronto’s Mitch Marner on a breakaway in Game 1. Meanwhile, Kadri has something of a rap sheet trailing him, especially in the playoffs and especially in this particular jurisdiction. In 2018, Nadri was suspended for three games for running Boston’s Tommy Wingels. On Saturday night, Kadri may have guaranteed his absence for the rest of the series—and, if some of the next-day rumbling from Toronto is to be believed, the end of his tenure with the Leafs—with one of the clearest, and dumbest, cheap shots ever thrown.
He and DeBrusk had been pushing and shoving and yapping at each other all night. In the second period, with the referees possibly distracted by their late dinner plans, DeBrusk dropped Nadri in open ice with a knee to his knee. DeBrusk went unpunished but, evidently, not forgotten. With 14:03 left in the third period, and Toronto still down only 3-1, in full view of everybody in the arena, Kadri watched DeBrusk level Patrick Marleau with a heavy check in front of the Boston bench and responded by delivering a vicious crosscheck to DeBrusk’s head. (Arriving on the scene of the crime, Boston’s gigantic captain, Zdeno Chara, looked very much like he wanted to throw Kadri out of the building and into the Mystic River beyond. Afterwards, the Bruins were somewhat circumspect about what had happened, including DeBrusk, who’d never returned after being skulled.
“They took a couple tests, and I hope they come back positive,” DeBrusk said. Asked several times about the hit itself, DeBrusk demurred. “I don’t think I want to comment about that.”
As befits the last two Original Six teams left in the playoffs, there’s some important history behind an episode in which a Toronto player goes medieval on a Bruin. In fact, a shot like the one DeBrusk took may have jump-started the greatest Boston team of them all.
On April 2, 1969, 50 years ago, Toronto and Boston also were playing in a Stanley Cup series. The Bruins, just coming into a kind if dynasty after 40 years of futility, were shredding the Leafs, 6-0, on their way to a 10-1 final score, in the first game of the series. With 18:03 left in the second period, Boston star Bobby Orr, who was passing through hockey demigod status on his way to full-blown hockey divinity, wound up for a rush along the right boards. A rookie defenseman named Pat Quinn lined Orr up and laid him out, cold, with a sledgehammer of an elbow.
The old Boston Garden went completely insane. The league’s director of officials was in attendance and is said to have whispered a silent prayer for Orr to get up, lest nobody get out of the building alive. On his way to the penalty box, Quinn was surrounded by angry fans and even got in a scuffle with a Boston cop. He broke a pane of the ringside glass and showered fans with shrapnel. Finally, they rousted Quinn to the locker room and when he came out—God knowers why—for the third period, he got hit in the head with a bus driver’s change maker. The Bruins, however, decided to run the score up as best they could and, ultimately, that enraged the Maple Leafs even more than the Garden fans had. In the third period, Maple Leaf Forbes Kennedy, playing in what would be his last NHL game, went completely, utterly berserk.
First, he went after goalie Gerry Cheevers. The crowd, still in meltdown over the Quinn hit, responded by showering Kennedy with beer and god knows what else. Kennedy proceeded to skate to the Boston bench and attempt to fight the entire roster. He was swinging at anything that moved. Unfortunately, one thing that was moving at the time was a linesman named George Ashley, whom Kennedy flattened. Just when things were calming down, Kennedy and Boston’s John McKenzie began an outright brawlThe upshot was that Forbes Kennedy, in his last game, set an NHL record that may never be matched: eight penalties called at once, including four minor penalties, two fighting majors, a 10-minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. (Later, he would be fined $1000 for jacking up Ashley.) After the game, Quinn walked into a Boston pub to get some beers for the team and somehow came out alive. Meanwhile, as Orr was leaving the hospital, a man came out of the shadows and offered to “take care” of Pat Quinn. Orr declined the button man’s offer, saying he’d take care of that himself. It’s hard to imagine what would happen to Quinn or Kennedy in these more enlightened times. The NHL might have to build a dungeon.
Quite simply, if the league is serious about protecting its players, and if it is serious about taking head trauma seriously, Nazem Kadri has to lose at least the rest of this series. The time is long past where the league could step back and let players “take care of things” themselves. Those days are gone with $1.50 beers and cigars in the upper balconies.
Jake DeBrusk is immensely lucky that he wasn’t injured worse than he was. The NHL is immensely lucky that it has a chance to do the right thing. The league is in constant tension with its own renegade history. Baseball fights have been a burlesque since Ty Cobb hung them up. Football is so inherently violent that fights are beside the point. Basketball has its shoving and woofing, but full-scale brawling is a much rarer thing than it once was. It says something about the modern NHL that the DeBrusk-Kadri drama didn’t explode the way that Forbes Kennedy did 50 years ago. Taking care of someone has a completely different meaning these days.