WASHINGTON -- The official hit count was pretty even after two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals, and the general level of physical play was also pretty much a draw.
That wasn't acceptable for Boston coach Claude Julien, though, and he let his players know it Monday before Game 3 at Verizon Center. His players responded with a greater level of physical play -- and a victory that looked more like what has come to be expected from the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"We talked about that before the game. I said the emotional level of that series wasn't where I wanted it to be knowing our hockey club and we had to elevate that and get a little bit more involved," Julien said Tuesday at the team's hotel. "And when we're emotional and we're more involved, we win battles and we create more things. So that's what happened [Monday]."
"As a team, you worry about the approach that your team's going to take and try to keep them as disciplined as possible and go from there. But as I mentioned, you also ... need some emotion in this game. And I think any fan that loves the game of hockey is loving the emotions that are out there right now, minus the unnecessary crap that crosses the line." -- Claude Julien
The Bruins won the Cup last season with a clear identity of physical hockey and great goaltending from Tim Thomas. Boston's players were frustrated after the first two games because Washington limited the Bruins' ability to harass rookie goalie Braden Holtby in front of the net, and because of the Capitals' commitment to blocking shots and matching the defending champs hit for hit.
Boston went on the offensive in that department Monday, registering 58 hits according to the official score sheet. The Bruins also engaged the Capitals in more post-whistle scrums, and the game ended with Washington's top center, Nicklas Backstrom, earning a match penalty for cross-checking Rich Peverley.
It was a rough-and-tumble affair. Washington coach Dale Hunter called the third period a "rugby game" during his post-game press conference. The Bruins called it a move forward for them to rediscover their championship form.
"There is a line to ride, for sure, and that probably goes for most teams, as well," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "We have guys who have size and a physical side to their game, and it is tough to play consistently with a physical side without that emotion, so definitely it is part of one of the ingredients that a lot of guys on our team need to be at their best. Without a doubt, guys got more involved and there wasn't a bunch of stupid penalties or anything like that, but it was definitely a step in the right direction."
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Added Chris Kelly: "I don't think we want to be a team that plays after the whistle, but we definitely want to play with that edge and that hunger between the whistles and sometimes there are shoving matches. That's just hockey, just playoff hockey. I know this group will never be back down from that, but we don't want to be known as a team that after the whistle is getting involved in stuff like that. We want to play hard between and be that big, physical, honest hockey team."
Boston's top forwards have not scored in this series, but Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand made their presence felt in Game 3 without being involved in any goals. Lucic did partake in some of that post-whistle activity Kelly spoke of, and he earned eight minutes in penalties for it.
Marchand constantly was in the vicinity of Alexander Semin, and the Bruins' pest drew penalties from three different Capitals in the game.
"I thought they both played extremely well and did their job getting out there, being physical and playing on that edge and obviously it drew some penalties for us and gave us some great opportunities on the power play," Kelly said.
The Capitals took exception to some of Boston's rough tactics, but that is what the Bruins are looking for. What transpired in Game 3 looked much more like "Bruins hockey" than the first two games of the series.
"As a team, you worry about the approach that your team's going to take and try to keep them as disciplined as possible and go from there," Julien said. "But as I mentioned, you also ... need some emotion in this game. And I think any fan that loves the game of hockey is loving the emotions that are out there right now, minus the unnecessary crap that crosses the line."