Boston. The epicenter of the sports universe.
Thursday was an emotional night at the New Boston Garden. The Bruins jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first game of their conference semifinal vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Around 9 p.m., just as word was spreading that Celtic legend John Havlicek had died earlier in the day in Florida, the Bruins allowed two goals in 13 seconds and fell behind, 2-1, in the third period.
It stayed that way for a while as the Bruins and Jackets skated under the hallowed banner featuring green No. 17 above the ice.
And then, with less than five minutes to play, a kid from Weymouth scored the tying goal for the Bruins.
And then, in the sixth minute of overtime, the same kid from Weymouth got the game-winner, converting a table-hockey goal on a pass from Marcus Johansson.
Charlie Coyle, who once played in the Bay State Conference, scored two goals to push the Bruins to victory.
Quite simply, the team from Boston was not going to lose in the Boston Garden on the day that John Havlicek died. That’s just not the way it goes around here these days.
There are heady days indeed. We have two reigning championship teams and there is a remote possibility that Boston could have the reigning champ in all four sports by the end of June. The Grand Slam of Bling.
There is no separation of these teams anymore. They are all of Boston. Just about all of the Celtics attended Tuesday’s Game 7, as did coach Brad Stevens, who said he wished his players could put a cross-check on the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Celtic Jaylen Brown was scheduled to be the Bruins banner captain before Game 1 (Brown was late). On Tuesday in Game 7 it was Julien Edelman, chugging a beer after toting the flag. Earlier in that series it was Gronk.
America hates us. Just so much winning. And in the spirit of teams channeling good vibes of crosstown teams, the Bruins seem to have found some Patriot magic in this spring of 2019.
In their quest for the seventh Stanley Cup in franchise history, the Bruins are following The Patriot Way.
As in . . . wait for bad things to happen to the teams that are standing in your playoff path.
It is the well-worn Tomato Can Theory.
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake (Napoleon).
If you stand by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by (Sun Tzu).
While the Bruins were beating Toronto in the opening round of the playoffs, much of their competition was erased from the NHL map.
The 62-win, 128-point Tampa Bay Lightning were bounced from the playoffs by these Blue Jackets. The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were bounced Wednesday night. The Calgary Flames are gone. The Nashville Predators are gone. The Pittsburgh Penguins are gone. The Bruins made the Leafs go away.
There you go. Six teams with 100 or more points gone before the second round of the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews. Gone, gone, gone, and gone. Of the 15 individual player, best-selling NHL jerseys, 13 of the stars have been eliminated from Stanley Cup contention. Of what’s left, the Bruins are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The path has been cleared.
It is very Patriot-like: Let somebody else take out your opponents. Whatever you need to make things easier is what will happen. The pretender rivals all fall down. The Patriots will always face young, bum quarterbacks in the biggest of games. They get the not-ready-for-prime-time Jags, instead of the talented-but-stupid Steelers. In the Super Bowl, they draw the baby lamb Rams and Jared Goff instead of the significant Saints and Drew Brees. It has been the Patriots’ winning formula for two decades and it seems to be wearing off on the Black and Gold.
In light of all this good fortune, you can’t blame Bruins fans for asking. “Why not us?’’
The Stanley Cup is there for the taking. At this hour, the only teams standing in the way of the Bruins and the Stanley Cup Finals are the Blue Jackets, the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes. Any of them scare you? Didn’t think so.
Regarding the Bruins sudden status as Cup favorites, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said, “Call us whatever you want. We know how we feel in this room. We believe we are as good as anybody. Just have to play that way.’’
The Blue Jackets have to be taken seriously. I guess. They wiped out the mighty Lightning in four games, outscoring the team of the century, 19-5, over the final 11 periods of their first-round series. Still, we can’t call the Jackets traditional rivals. And they have virtually no NHL playoff résumé. Born in 2000, they have a grand total of nine playoff wins in franchise history. Shoot that number out of your cannon, Columbus.
The Bruins came out skating hard Thursday and fired the first seven shots on net. It was a classic case of Rust over Rest. The elder B’s were playing for the second times in three nights, less than 48 hours after a grueling Game 7. The Jackets were young, rested, and not very good.
Boston struck first with a shorthanded goal when Noel Acciari fired a pedestrian wrist shot past Sergei Bobrovsky in the middle of the first period. The Bruins’ 1-0 lead held up through the first 40 minutes.
Then came the bad news on Hondo. And the defensive breakdown on the ice.
But this is Boston in the spring of 2019. The Bruins were not going to lose in the Boston Garden on this night.