Saturday, June 18, 2011
The Bruins playoffs in review
The Bruin's Stanley Cup Winner's parade is today.
Hang on, it still seems unreal after I type that. Let me try again:
The Bruin's Stanley Cup Winner's parade is today.
Holy smokes, it still knocks me for a loop. It's a good loop but a loop nonetheless.
In the Grand Scheme of things this event is hardly life-changing or earth-shattering. It doesn't lower gas or food prices, spark miraculous medical cure, save whales, create jobs, fix the economy or effect world peace (the Vancouver riot aside).
Still, it's pretty damn cool.
Let's be real here for a minute; during the regular season did anyone really believe that THIS was the team that would gel so solidly and march through four rounds to get the chrome salad bowl? Hell, I'm a pretty optimistic fan but the boys had me wondering on more than one occasion if they were up to the task. More than once the B's had their shaky and bizarre moments.
As much as any Bruins fan despises the Montreal Canadiens, they are due a small amount of credit. They helped re-invigorate the cup run and (if not slay) at least stab a few demons from their past. Also, if the Bruins did win the cup without facing and defeating the Hated Habs it would have been a slightly less impressive victory.
The Flyers were next on the agenda after utterly humiliating in the previous seasons playoffs. The choker label was applied to a team that coughed up a 3-0 series lead then lost four straight. That one hurt and acted to cast a pall over the next season, with damn good reason; it was a disaster. Sweeping them in four straight games helped the Bruins get the horrible taste from their mouths and provide another motivational boost.
These two teams brought to mind the end of the movie, the Godfather. Picture Peter Chiarelli sitting behind a big wooden desk in a smoky dark room. He looks over to his lieutenant, Cam Neely, and utters; "This season we take care of all old family business". What happens is synchronized carnage. But I digress.
For a non-traditional foe the Tampa Bay Lightning still offered up a very interesting challenge in regards to Eastern Conference match-ups. Mixing powerful high-dollar talent with what was thought a smothering defensive system to provide a legitimate challenge to the Bruin's post-season march. This series was probably Claude Julien's own moment to demonstrate that he is a great coach. Tampa's 1-3-1 system with crushing fore checking was shutting teams out very effectively. Mere firepower and great goaltending wasn't enough. The tactics weren't the problem, the strategy was.
Julien juggled the line-up and philosophy just enough while kicking of a nitrous oxide boost by plugging 19 year old Tyler Seguin into the lineup at exactly the right time. The move was brilliant and that, mixed with playoff hockey starved Nathan Horton, tilted the scales against sunny Florida. The fact that it went seven games is a testament to the Lighting's strength and gives a glimpse into what may be a scary opponent in next season's Eastern conference. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is no idiot and he now knows where he needs to add pieces for the next step.
Vancouver came into the playoffs after having exorcized its own demons by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, who schooled them on three previous occasions. The Canucks had their flaws but the perception was their strengths offset them nicely. For the first two games of the series that assessment seemed spot-on. The bruins tried vainly but could not dent the Canucks shell.
Then something happened. It was triggered partly with the injury to Horton and a return home to the place that had no history, no backing force, no whiff of past glory, the 'new' garden. These Bruins steeled themselves and did something that no other team had done to the barn once known as the 'defeat' center. They brought glory.
Maybe Vancouver got cocky, reading too many glowing press clippings. Maybe Luongo performed his usual fall to earth. Maybe they were just to worn out and beat up from the rigors of three previous hard-fought rounds. All these are distinct possibilities.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Bruins sat in their locker room, looked at one another and reached an agreement. We will be 'almost good enough' no more. This is the right place, the right time, with the right personnel. Let's show them that this bear's claws and teeth are to be feared.
The Bruins exploded like their animal namesake and tore the killer whale clad Canucks to shreds. Then just to show it wasn't a fluke, they did it again. All you had to do was look into the eyes of Tim Thomas and you got the story. We aren't happy with being good. We will be great. We're the better team.
The next game was a hard fought battle from beginning to end as the Canucks gave one final boost to show their mettle. A single fluke goal from a marginally talented spare part snuck behind Thomas and finished the game. The Canucks regained the series lead 3-2.
Unlike previous seasons this didn't have that impending disaster feel that Bruins fans are all too used to. We saw where Vancouver was weak and the return home for the next game proved that observation.
Roberto Luongo helped to trigger his team's demise with his own very poorly chosen words, taking a shot at the heroic Tim Thomas. His claim was that Thomas wasn't providing Luongo with the praise he so richly deserved and even had the gall to critique Thomas's goaltending style. Making matters worse was when Thomas retorted with one simple, bemused line. Smiling he said, "I didn't know it was my job to pump up his tires".
The dye was cast. The Hockey Gods punish those for hubris. Roberto Luongo, one of the highest paid, longest signed goalies in the NHL was about to be laid low.
The bear could smell blood and that third trip to the garden was fitting set up to that one final apocalyptic moment. The final score was 5-2 Bruins but that score didn't tell the whole story. The Canucks were beaten, emotionally crushed and very scared. The series was tied and all the marbles rested on a single game.
…Back in Vancouver
…Where the Bruins had yet to win.
To its credit Vancouver did try. The Sedin twins did rise from their coma and the Canucks forward pressed hard, getting into Tim Thomas's face and practically up his nose at the games start. Even the most hardened fan (me included) were on the edge of the seat for a few minutes.
It was Patrice Bergeron that fired the shot that finished off the league's best regular season team and Western Conference champs. Three more shots found their mark but the body had already fallen. Thomas had put up a brick wall in net and had already made the conscious decision to put an exclamation point on the first Bruins cup triumph in 39 years, providing his forth shutout of the post-season.
On a personal note I just had to nudge my lovely wife to pause the chick-flick she was watching on her computer and pop out her headphones to witness the Cup carried higher than its ever been held-literally seeing as Zdeno Chara is huge. She was good sport and sat patiently through the ceremony, likely wondering what the fuss was all about but having the good taste not to say anything. At the end she smiled at me and went back to her movie. After 25 years of my yelling shenanigans she's paid her dues in a different way. In her own quiet way she's been a Bruins fan for most of her life as well, she just won't admit it.
And now an estimated million people are funneling into Boston to grab a peace of that black and gold glory. The Burins are the conquering hero and deserve the adulation they receive on this day. Trivial in the grand scheme of things or not those men did fight the good fight and bring pride back to one of the finest cities on earth. I salute them for that.
Now if they could just do it again next season…