There will come a day when current members of the Boston Bruins will assemble to see who’s gotten fat, who’s gotten gray, who’s gotten bald, and who looks as if he could double-shift while also putting in time on both the PP and PK units (hold all calls, we have a winner here, and his name is Zdeno Chara).
And when they do, I submit they will be able to say, without fear of embarrassment or contradiction, that they have come to realize that they once participated in a four-year run of roller-coaster highs and lows no other team in the history of North American team sport had ever experienced.
I mean, think about it. Start with the 2010 postseason.
AGONY IN 2010
You’re up, three games to none, against the Philadelphia Flyers. Gotta be feeling pretty good. Only two teams in the history of Stanley Cup play have ever lost a series after being up, 3-0,
There is nothing going on to suggest you will become the third.
Except that you do.
You lose Game 4. OK. Sweeps are hard. You lose Game 5. Let’s not panic. You lose Game 6. Not good, but we’re home for Game 7.
Oh, yeah, Game 7. You get up, 3-0. You’re home. Life is good. Except that, somehow, some way, you lose. The Flyers score four unanswered goals. In your building. You have not merely lost a fourth game in a row after being up, three games to none, you have done so after being up, 3-0, in Game 7. At home. The horror!
“The bottom line,” sighs coach Claude Julien, “is that we had a 3-0 lead in this series. We had a 3-0 lead tonight. We blew both. There’s no excuses. We have to take responsibility that goes with it. Everyone. We had four tries at it and we weren’t able to do it.”
ECSTASY IN 2011
No one ever took a path like this to a Stanley Cup. I feel very comfortable in making that statement.
It begins by getting down, two games to none, at home against the Canadiens, your most ancient, hated, and, yup, feared rival. That series concludes with a Game 7 overtime conquest on a goal by Nathan Horton. There has been a universal presumption that should the Bruins have lost, it would have been Julien’s last game as coach.
Next up: Nah, it can’t be. But it is. The next opponent is — who’s scripting this? — the Philadelphia Flyers.
Redemption? Is that the right word to describe what happened? Probably. The facts were quite clear. The Bruins won all four games, outscoring their 2010 tormentors by a 20-7 count. The only competitive game was the second one, won by the Bruins in overtime.
It might not have been that old puck favorite, “desperate hockey,” but it sure was impressive hockey, and the meaning of it all was best summed up by goaltender Tim Thomas, back when we still thought he was sane.
“To be honest,” he said, “I’m glad that it’s over. I’m glad that it’s done with. Because the longer that this series would have went, the more talk about a year ago. I’m glad the fans can put it behind them and, I’ll say it, hopefully exorcise some demons.”
And we are just getting started.
Now there is hockey, good hockey, great hockey, and I’m-gonna-tell-my-grandchildren-about-this-one hockey. There had been any number of highlight moments during the first six games of the conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Game 7 was one of those ultra-rare athletic events that underscores just how different the emotions touched by sport are from all other forms of “entertainment.”
No concert, no trip to an art gallery, and no visit to a theater could possibly provide the tingle experienced by anyone who saw the Bruins and Lightning play a completely enthralling game in which there was but one goal, there were countless extraordinary saves by goalies Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson, and there was not one penalty!
To play in such a game was a privilege. To win it — a seventh game, remember — was to have a feeling of immeasurable satisfaction.
And we still weren’t done.
No, in order to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972, the Bruins had to get by the Vancouver Canucks, a potent outfit led by the vaunted Sedin twins, and they’d have to do so without having home ice, a fact all the more relevant when the Canucks won Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver.
But for the 2011 Bruins, another 0-2 deficit was a yawner.
They wind up surviving two 1-0 losses, and they outscore the Canucks, 23-8, in the series, capping it with a 4-0 explosion in Game 7. I guess you could call that total redemption.
AGONY IN 2012
Ouch. The Bruins and Washington Capitals play seven one-goal games in a first-round series. The Capitals win Games 2, 4, 5, and 7.
The Bruins win Games 1, 3, and 6. They’re out. They go home. Like, what happened?
Oh, and Vezina-winning, Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Tim Thomas appears to have lost his mind.
SO FAR, SO GOOD IN 2013
Would it be an exaggeration to suggest that Game 7 of the first-round series between the Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs is the clear leader in the clubhouse in the category of Most Talked-About Game, not only of the NHL season but in all of North American sport for 2013? I think not.
The Bruins were deader than dead. And they’re still playing. It is the summation of every cliché having to do with not quitting until you hear the final horn. It is Yogi’s Law to the max. The game was over. But the Bruins didn’t know it.
Don’t want to get too melodramatic about the Rangers series, except to note that these Boston-New York athletic confrontations generally mean more to the fans than they do the players, for whom a New York-based foe really is just another playoff obstacle. But I know Boston fans felt a little extra glow, perhaps even a little more when they saw that bullying, ogre coach get canned.
Apropos the Pittsburgh series, I have one question. How many years did you age in that final minute? My personal estimate is two.
So, here we are. That is an amazing four-year résumé, and let the record show that Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Ference, and Tuukka Rask (the goalie in 2010, remember) have been around for every second of it. In case no one else has told them, let me be the first: You guys have been through more conflicting emotions in the last four years than any North American athletes — ever. I’m sure of it.
Wait a minute. We still have more hockey to play. You know, fodder for a unique résumé. Can’t wait to see what’s up next.