VANCOUVER, British Columbia – For two days, we talked about The Bite. Alex Burrows said it didn't bother him. He didn't read the columns or listen to the commentary. He didn't care.
But he said it might have hurt his parents' feelings a little bit to hear how their boy had bitten an opponent, how he should have been suspended for one of the biggest games of his life. And his father, Rodney, had a message for him when they spoke Friday.
"He said, 'Go out there and score some goals. That's what's really going to piss them off even more,' " Burrows said. "Obviously I listened to his advice."
Burrows had two goals and an assist Saturday night – including the game winner 11 seconds into overtime – as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2, and took a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
By "them," his father had meant Boston, some of the media, whoever had been hating on him. Well, consider Boston pissed. Whoever hated Burrows before ought to hate him even more now. He is a villain most everywhere but Vancouver, where he is, of course, a hero.
Burrows bit Bruins center Patrice Bergeron(notes) during a scrum at the end of the first period Wednesday night. The replay clearly showed him chomping on Bergeron's gloved right index finger. Bergeron took off his glove and showed the referees the damage.
Still, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy(notes) said he could find "no conclusive evidence that Alex Burrows intentionally bit the finger of Patrice Bergeron." That led to all kinds of too-easy, rim-shot jokes that the Bruins didn't find funny.
"He bit Bergie," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference(notes) said. "His finger's bleeding. But obviously if they can't have conclusive evidence, then that's the NHL's decision. You've got to live with it. So nobody's here complaining about it."
Nobody in Boston really should. Could Burrows have been suspended? Sure. But it's not like Burrows bit Bergeron's finger off. It was more of a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing, especially at this stage of this season.
Remember: Nathan Horton(notes) could have been suspended for a water-bottle incident after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final. The NHL let that go, and Horton ended up scoring the winner in the 1-0 Game 7 victory that eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As Bruins coach Claude Julien said about the Burrows decision: "If we start using that as an excuse, we're a lame team."
And as we've said before, the deeper story here is that Burrows has become too valuable of a player to get himself suspended. He scrapped his way to the NHL. He had to be a pest for a while to survive. He still has that reputation, and when his rat side still comes out on occasion, it reinforces that.
Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland(notes) was quoted calling The Bite "typical" Burrows behavior – "pulling hair and biting people, sort of like a little girl." (Yeah, like calling someone a "little girl" is mature, too.)
But this is a guy who plays on the No. 1 line on the No. 1 team in the NHL. He's the left winger alongside two MVP-caliber players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin(notes). He has become more disciplined this season. He now has nine goals in these playoffs – one off the league lead – including the Game 7 overtime winner that eliminated Bolland's Blackhawks in the first round.
"He's a big part of our line," Henrik Sedin said. "A lot of times, he's the guy making plays, and that's what we need as players. I said before, a lot of years here, everyone thought we needed a big grinder. That's not the guy we want to play with. We want to play with a guy that can make plays, and he's that guy."
After the Bruins took a 2-1 lead in the second, Burrows made the play on the tying goal in the third period. A shot hit him in front. Then he sent a smart pass into the left circle for Daniel Sedin(notes), who buried the puck into an open net. If Burrows were just a hair-pulling, finger-biting 'little girl', could he have done that?
"I mean, he looks up, and he knows Danny's going to come there," Henrik Sedin said. "That comes from playing together for a long time and making plays."
In overtime, Daniel chipped the puck up to Burrows. He knew Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara(notes) was off to his right and he had a lane to the net, and he knew Thomas' tendency would be to challenge in that situation. He faked a shot. Sure enough, Thomas came out to challenge.
"I was aggressive," Thomas said.
Burrows went to the left of the net, and Chara and Thomas went with him. Maybe helped by the fresh ice, Thomas slid way too far out of position. Burrows fought off Chara, wrapped around the net and put the puck into the open net.
"I'm not even sure how it went in," Burrows said. "It was probably just the tip of my blade."
Amazing, isn't it? It can be such a fine line between a goal and no goal, between making it and not making it, between good and evil.
Burrows looked back on his journey after the game. He remembered playing as a 19- and 20-year old in junior and spending his first two pro seasons in the East Coast Hockey League. He remembered how happy he was to sign an American Hockey League contract for $45,000, when he had made only about $28,000 in the ECHL, but how he still had to work as a landscaper in the summer.
"I had to put in a lot of work to be able to save a little bit of money," he said.
He remembered how he was sent back to the ECHL in 2004-05 – and how he had told himself that if he stayed down there he would "probably pack it in and go back to school." He remembered how he got called back up to the AHL and eventually made it to the NHL.
"I think all my life I really had to work for everything," Burrows said. "People will say, 'Oh, it's hard to work hard.' But for me, it's just going out there and having fun, really. People might look at it as hard work, but for me, it's just having fun. If you're not going out there and working, what's the point, really?"
He also made sure everyone remembered that, despite some borderline behavior, he had never really gone too far in 442 regular-season and 54 playoff games.
"Obviously I play on the fine line, gray area – all depends on what you want to call it – but never been suspended," Burrows said. "I don't feel that I'm a dirty player or I go out of my way to hurt people out there."
They might disagree in Boston. They might give him a rude reception for Games 3 and 4 at TD Garden. After The Bite, the goals should have pissed them off even more. But that's fine.
"I don't think he cares," Henrik Sedin said. "I'm sure they're going to try to do something, but it's the playoffs. We're there to play hockey. I don't think they're going to jump on the ice and try to care of him."
"I hope not."
The Canucks need him.