“We were not just beating this team. We were destroying it. As much as I wanted to win that championship, I remember being disappointed that the Lakers were not playing better.’’
— Bill Russell, recalling a 1965 title-clinching game in which the Celtics scored 20 consecutive points, running to a 36-point lead over Los Angeles.
Welcome to Boston, you Pittsburgh Penguins.
There will be no pity tonight. No one in TD Garden will be disappointed if the Penguins continue to play like entitled, overrated posers. The Bruins still need six more wins to get where they want to go, and there will be no sympathy for a high-scoring team that has lost its way.
The Bruins are smoking hot. They thus far have emasculated the prohibitive favorites from Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have lost their composure. At this hour, they look like the Vancouver Canucks in the final days of the 2011 Final. They look like the 1966 Dodgers trying to score runs against a great Orioles pitching staff in the World Series. They look like A-Rod with the Yankees in the last four games of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
We need to be a little careful, of course. A couple of decades ago, the Bruins had a 2-0 series lead in a conference final against Pittsburgh, then lost four straight. We need to remember that the Bruins were a mere 12 minutes from elimination just a couple of weeks ago in Game 7 against Toronto. Let’s be mindful of the 1985 NBA Finals when the Celtics beat the Lakers, 148-114, in Game 1, then lost the series in six games.
All that said, it’s hard to be humble when you’ve just watched your team outscore the favorites on their home ice by a gaudy 9-1 in six periods of near-perfect hockey. Going back to the final half of the final period of regulation against the Maple Leafs in Game 7, the Bruins have outscored the opposition by an aggregate 29-11. If Tuukka Rask didn’t slip on the ice at Madison Square Garden, the Bruins would be carrying a seven-game winning streak into Game 3 Wednesday night.
This much is certain: The visitors need to start fast. They need a goal before Rene Rancourt takes his seat. This will be a bloodthirsty Garden crowd, and the Penguins can ill afford a repeat of their Game 2 start when Brad Marchand fired a shot past Tomas Vokoun in the 28th second of the game.
All eyes will certainly be on Sidney Crosby. Now that LeBron James has rescued the Heat in a Game 7, Crosby is the sports star with the most to prove in the spring of 2013. His reputation has taken a massive hit in the first two games of this series and he risks morphing into a Wilt Chamberlain/A-Rod pinata if he continues to pout and put up zeroes.
The sub-headline in Sports Illustrated’s May 13 cover story on Crosby reads, “You can’t keep Sidney Crosby down. You can only marvel at how hockey’s best player keeps coming back even better than when he left.’’
Well, the Bruins certainly have kept him down for two games. And the only thing to “marvel” about is the new notion that Crosby is a baby and a no-show on the big stage. He’s supposed to be the face of the NHL and the successor to Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux, but thus far in this series, he’s not nearly as good as Torey Krug. And let’s not embarrass him with the numbers about his faceoff failures against Patrice Bergeron.
Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. He has done nothing to disgrace his name or his sport. Suddenly, he is a whiner and an underachiever. He is David Crosby. He is Bing Crosby. He is a punch line.
When an infant was heard crying on a JetBlue flight out of Pittsburgh Tuesday, the pilot asked whether it was Crosby crying in the back of the plane. This is not the image you want to take into Game 3 when your highly favored team was just outscored, 9-1, in the first two games of the conference finals.
The Consol Energy Center was sapped of all noise and power Monday night. It was shocking and silent. Almost everyone who watched was stunned. The Penguins quit. They packed it in and rested for Game 3.
It won’t be quiet when the Penguins come out of the tunnel Wednesday night. It will be loud and electric. The Bruins truly are playing with house money, and a nation waits to see if Crosby and the Penguins can recover from the humiliation of Game 2 in Pittsburgh.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.