Saturday, December 20, 2008

The '03/'04 Cup Team

I recently read this article by Stephen Harris in the Boston Herald. He compares this season's team to the pre-lockout team of '03/'04, and I must admit to being somewhat amused by what he said:

"It was widely seen as a squad that would win at least one Stanley Cup, maybe more."

I recall those days rather well, and there were few if any Bruins fans who thought that team had a chance of going beyond the second round. I recall what the pundits said too. The general belief was that the B's didn't have the depth to win a cup, and they were right. Nobody who was paying attention thought that team was going to win a Cup. This despite the late season rentals of Gonchar and Nylander who were never more than just passing through. Samsonov's best days were behind him, although he played with more heart than any other Bruin during the playoff series with the Habs. Rolston and Bergeron had yet to fully mature, and like many young players during that time seemed destined for true greatness... in the future with some other team.

And then there was Jumbo Joe. Looking back, it was just wrong. From the day he was drafted the pundits around the league heaped praise on him and by extension on the Bruins. We fans bathed ourselves in it. But it was never quite right. He was brought along too slowly. Then too quickly. Then it seemed everyone expected him to be a natural leader as well. Joe Thornton is a very good player who will tally your team a lot of goals. But he was never "the" player, the one that everyone seemed to expect him to be. And the blame for that falls squarely on the Bruins management who mishandled him from the start and built the wrong expectations. Yes, he played injured during the playoff series. But in that series he was more often a liability than an asset, taking stupid penalties and playing frustrated. He may not have been able to play at 100% but he had 100% control over how he played and over the way his play affected the rest of the team.

Were they a team destined to win a cup? No. The management showed little respect for the players or for the fans and the players showed little respect in return. Time and again players came to Boston only to fail or worse, move on to a higher salary elsewhere. Looking back, it was truly awful. The fans that turned their backs on those Bruins had every reason to do so. They were a broken team and a broken organization.

We should all be grateful that today the Bruins are no longer broken. No matter how well they do for the rest of the season, the Bruins are an immeasurably better team than anything put on the ice in the O'Connell days. They have respect for one another from the top down, they work hard, have fun, and they play like a team. Even today I read comments from fans who long for a big name free agent to "fix"the team or "push them over the top." These fans just don't get it. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and that goes for the entire team, on and off the ice. You could fill a team with "name" free agents and it would fail without the proper management and attitude throughout the organization. It is this rare and elusive quality that the Bruins have today in spades.

Look at the current roster today, because in ten years many of their names will be remembered well. Hell, some of them may even be hanging from the rafters. Look at those names, because one day they will make the '03/'04 roster look weak in comparison.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back in Black

Ok, not the most original title, I know. Yes, I am back, my three readers. And of course, so are the Bruins--back, in black, and, oh man, are they back!

Where to start. Hmm... maybe my return would be a good excuse for a recap of the season so far.

The season started out normally enough. The post I had planned to start the season would have gone something like, "They've come this far but can they take it to yet another level?" And in the early going it looked like more of the same as last year: good, but not great hockey. The home loss to the Leafs was disappointing, but you can't win them all, right?

And then something happened. The Stars came to town and they brought their goons with them. Sean Avery and Steve Ott may have been the best things to happen to the Boston Bruins since the last time we beat the Habs in a playoff series. Imagine the very idea of coming into Boston and trying to intimidate the Bruins with cheap shots. The Stars tried it with the result that nobody is likely to try it again for a very long time. The Bruins beat the Stars in every sense of the word. During that game the Bruins came together as a team. I will long recall seeing Savvy pounding on Avery at the end of the game. Sure, it may have been more symbolic than pugilistic, but the gesture held great meaning.

Prior to that game the Bruins were 5-3-2. Since the drop of the puck against the Stars on Saturday, November 1st, the Bruins have gone 14-1-1. Thank you, Dallas. And thank you Mr. Avery. Good luck to you in your next profession. I don't know what you will do, but I'm sure it will be sleazy.

The next highlight has to be a 6-1 stomping of Montreal at home. That felt oh so good.

Unfortunately the next memorable game wasn't nearly so sweet. Those Rangers are pretty darned good. The Bruins lost in a shootout in New York. This was a tough game where for one of the few times since November 1st the opposing team seemed of similar caliber.

Speaking of teams of similar caliber, the home game against the Red Wings has to be the second most memorable game of the season so far. What made this game truly awe inspiring was that the Wings played very well. Unlike other opponents they didn't let the B's into their zone like water through a chain link fence. The Bruins had to really work to win this one. The score may have been a lopsided 4-1, but the play was much closer. You really got the feeling that the Wings had brought their A game and still lost.

Lastly, the low point of the season, at least for me, came on November 26th, in Buffalo. Not only was this the only regulation loss in November, but it was an awful game to watch. This was made worse for me by the fact that The Dish Network failed to pick up the NESN broadcast for Center Ice so I had to watch the Buffalo broadcast. Now, I'm not such a die-hard fan that I can't watch another teams' broadcast. In some cases it's a welcome change. But the Buffalo broadcast team is just awful! They do it old school and it's about as much fun as watching a puck dry after a game. Give me Jack Edwards. He may be partisan to the point of silliness sometimes, but at least he's always having fun. And his fun is contagious. And Brick, of course, is the perfect counterpoint. I really think those two are the best broadcast team in the NHL. But I digress.

I have way more thoughts, but I'll save them for another post or two or three.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Getting a Late Start

Just a quick note that this old B's fan will be getting a late start on the season. I haven't gone away and I'm enjoying the season very much so far! It's just that "real" life is requiring all of my time at the moment. But never fear, loyal readers (all three of you!) that will change eventually.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chiarelli Throws the Dice

Michael Ryder. To tell the truth this free agency acquisition worries me. Last year at this time I wrote that I didn't understand why the Bruin's GM had obtained Manny Fernandez and this year I have a similar feeling. But at least last year I figured that it couldn't hurt to have two good goaltenders. I'm really trying to see the bright side this time around, but I'm left trying to figure out how we are better off with two Glen Murrays.

There are things here that just don't add up. Why are we told by the Bruins that Ryder is a good two-way player when he's a career -24? Why are we told that he's big going into the boards when that doesn't gel with his reputation? He's a lot faster than Muzz (Murray), I'll grant them that. And I'll add that he doesn't appear to be injured as often. Like Muzz, Ryder had a very bad year last year. But unlike Muzz he wasn't fighting injury and it was a big year prior to his free agency and his big chance to cash in. We are told that the coach didn't give him playing time, but come on. No coach is going to bench a good player just because he doesn't like the way he looks. There are no signs that Ryder was unhappy or having personal differences with the coaching staff. So why did he spend his big year on the bench?

No, there only seems to be one clear reason why Ryder is coming to Boston: coach Julien wants him. And to tell the truth, if I were Chiarelli I'd probably listen to Julien too. I just hope Julien knows what he's doing with this guy. A change of scenery and a new coach that believes in a player has the potential to bring him around. But it's a big gamble. Not only is Chiarelli gambling that Ryder helps the team by scoring, but he's gambling that Ryder will respond to Julien's defense-first system and become a better two-way player. But what worries me most are the consequences for the GM if this gamble makes him look foolish. How many bad moves will Chiarelli be allowed before someone with less hockey acumen starts looking over his shoulder and telling him what to do?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A New Beginning

I missed the first half of game seven. I hear the B's did well in the first period, but by the time I tuned in the Habs were already dominating. People talk about momentum, but when it's a close game or close series, momentum in hockey is often a see-saw affair. Although I had hoped for victory, my hockey instincts were telling me that it would be the Hab's turn in game seven. But as we say goodbye to the Bruins, for once it feels less like an end than a new beginning. I only wish the summer were shorter. I'm going to miss this team.

It was an amazing and entertaining journey, from game 2 in Phoenix, which I was able to attend, to game seven in Montreal. Before the season my major concern was whether any coach could bring this rag-tag group of players together. But it didn't take Julien very long to settle that question; on the long opening road trip he forged a team. Time after time all season long this team was tested: a lopsided loss, a key player out, but always they stood up, shook it off, and came back as strong as ever. Every time they fell back on bad habits or were rattled, they bounced right back. The B's were the last team in the league to lose back to back games. And it must be said that the Bruins suffered a league-leading 364 man-games lost to injury, often to key players, yet they soldiered on.

And to those who thought the B's just squeaked into the playoffs in the eighth spot, think again. The fight for the bottom 4 playoff spots was the most intense I have ever seen. It lasted weeks and was win or die nearly every game. When the dust had settled some very good teams were left watching from the outside. None of the teams that made it cared what the order was in the end; getting in was all that mattered. The final standings were so close from top to bottom that had the Bruins simply won more than half their regular season games against Montreal, the Bruins would have finished first in the conference and it would have been the Habs in the 8th seed. That's how much the domination of the B's by the Habs meant to both teams. Against the rest of the NHL the Bruins actually had the better record.

I can't recall the last time I was absolutely certain that this team played all the way to its potential, leaving nothing on the ice. Everyone associated with the Bruins should be very proud.

And as for Montreal, I never felt during the season that the Bruins players "got" the rivalry. They didn't feel it in their guts. But now I am sure they do. And they have also proved themselves against them. I am very much looking forward to the Habs-B's games next year!

There were many individual achievements along the way as well. Tim Thomas finally proved himself beyond the shadow of a doubt, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Chara put to bed any ideas that he is not worth his salary or not up to the leadership role. Marc Savard proved that he could still be among the NHL assist leaders on a team that was near the bottom in goals scored and which had only two 20+ goal scorers and none with 30 or more. He somehow managed an assist on one out of every three goals scored this season. I still have not been able to figure out how that's even possible. Sturm and Kobasew took turns doing exactly what they were expected to do. Metropolit played every game like it would be his last and his example on the ice kept the team moving forward. Ward too was an example on the ice, always playing physically. Perhaps more than any other Bruin it was Ward who was missed most when he couldn't play.

And the kids! There is so much talent coming up from Providence, and even more in waiting. Lucic, Nokelainen, Sobotka and Kessel. Looch seemingly was born an NHL player. Kessel just kept improving, rising to every challenge, steadily getting better and better. There is so much talent that Chiarelli is facing an embarrassment of riches: who to keep, and who to move? Because surely they are reaching the point where they can't keep everyone.

I don't wish to dwell upon it, but it must be said: the one big disappointment of the season was Glen Murray. What happened to him this season is a mystery. He has a long record as a sniper, but this season the goals did not come. It is true that he has slowed a bit, but he was never really the fastest skater. He proved he could still slip into the open spot in the slot, and with Savvy setting him up it should have been a huge year for him. I kept waiting for him to shake it off, but the goals never came. He finished the season with 30 points and a -4. In the playoffs he was a fifth wheel--finishing with no points and -3. It pains me to say it, but for everyone's sake, if the B's can buy him out they should.

Peter Chiarelli has done a great job. He has slowly and steadily improved the team. I was upset with the way Dave Lewis was treated last year, but it is hard not to see how important Julien has been to the team, and snapping him up was the right thing to do when he unexpectedly came available. And it is true that I had hoped for the acquisition of a power forward last summer and believed that Thomas would end up the starter no matter what. So I wasn't exactly happy about his picking up Fernandez. But even this wasn't a terrible move because Thomas responds to competition and he can't play every game. If they go with the Thomas/Fernandez tandem next year it can only be a positive thing.

Lastly, and most importantly, I can't say enough about Claude Julien and the rest of the coaching staff. They were the wellspring from which all good things came; it was they who made it possible for the team and the players to shine. Well done!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Montreal drops the puck: Priceless

Warning: sleeping bear awakened by the drop of a puck. 

What great fun!  What a great gift for the fanbase.  I have a grin five times wider than usual this morning. 

And now the pressing question is this: is Price rattled?  Or will he and the Habs bounce back?  

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kessel Talk

I've been hearing a lot about how the B's should put Kessel into the lineup. But I'm with Julien on this one. Here are Kessl's plus-minus stats for the regular season games against the Habs this season:

-2, -1, -2, -2, 0, -1, -2, -1 = -11

Not only has he not done well defensively against the Habs but he hasn't scored on them either. If those numbers tipped toward the positive at the end of the season I'd think seriously about putting him in the lineup, but that's not the case. Sitting out is probably good for his "character" anyhow.

A couple of other thoughts going into tonight: I expect Julien to change things up with new line combinations. And if they can just get the power play going, that alone could tip this game in their favor.

Unfortunately the last game was probably the best possible outcome for the Habs. They didn't do anything to wake the sleeping bear; they didn't make it angry nor did they embarrass it. Unfortunately, my prediction is that the sleeping bear will not awaken tonight... unless something huge happens.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bruins Lose (Ground)

It's easy to look at the B's loss in game four and see a tight one goal game that could have gone either way. And that wouldn't be all that far off the mark. But after having watched this team play for 150+ games in the last two seasons I saw something else--something disheartening.

As they have consistently done all series the Bruins came out flat in the 2nd. Not terribly flat, mind you, not so flat that they gave up more than one goal. But it was still flat. I spent the whole 2nd period waiting for it to be over, hoping the Habs didn't score more than one goal. What disturbs me about this is that it's the pre-Julien team, with its bad habits and losing ways, rearing its ugly head just a bit.

But with the 3rd period it only got worse. They waited too long to bring it. I have to give a lot of credit to Montreal here, because they turned the tables on the Bruins and beat them at their own game. And I also give Chara high marks for leadership. When he carried the puck into the zone he was saying, "Come on guys, time to bring it!" And for a moment it seemed to work. But only for a moment. And what happened to the energy line of Metro, Noke and Schaefer? They just sort of faded away, and with them the Bruins hopes of making a real series of it. It was like everyone just did what they were told and played a strong defensive game while they waited for Savvy or Sturm to tie it up. But it doesn't work that way, at least not for these guys. Unfortunately this not knowing when to turn it on and take a game away is another hallmark of the pre-Julien team.

But in a sense I know I am over-analyzing this game. The coach no doubt told them to stay disciplined and they did. And I can't say enough about how brilliant Carbonneua's game plan was, adopting a defensive style of play. I just wanted to see more desperation and fire, particularly in the 3rd. It would have felt more like they went down fighting.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bruins Win Game 3

Wow. Can I say that again? Wow! The Bruins victory last night was oh, so sweet. Those of us who have followed this team closely all season know just what it took to get to this spot. I am so happy for those guys! Even if they don't win another game this year, this OT win will be one to remember and to build forward from next season. And to see Wideman go from scared witless in game 1 to that awesome backhand pass to set up the winner... well that's why I'm an avid hockey fan.

For those who didn't see the game, here's how the OT went: it opened with the ice tilted heavily toward the Bruin's end. Montreal had them on their heels and the only thing that kept them in the game was Tim Thomas standing on his head. Big save after big save. They just kept coming. And then it happened. A few players started to take the game back. Nokelainen. Schaefer. Metropolit. Those are the unsung heroes. Metro took the puck right to Price twice in a row, blasting right through a defender the second time. The momentum started to swing. And when a dump in took a huge bounce the B's charged into the offensive zone, drawing a penalty. Thomas skated off and Savvy skated on in his place and smelling blood the B's went right for the jugular. But they never would have had the chance if Thomas hadn't played like the elite goaltender he is.

Now I have to get something off my chest that I have waited a long time for: I knew this day would come. I knew it from late in the 2005/2006 season. I knew it when some jerk taunted me relentlessly when I said Thomas was an elite goaltender in every way that mattered. I knew it when the childish dolts who post at a certain "Rumors" blog adopted the mantra, "Tim Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender." I knew it when I read a story by some nitwit who claimed that O'Connell signed Thomas out of revenge when he realized his days were numbered. I knew it when PC picked up Fernandez this summer and many fans assumed he'd be the No. 1. I knew it all along: Tim Thomas is the best thing to happen to the Bruins in a long time. And the irony is this: Tim Thomas was the best signing Mike O'Connell ever made.

So to all of the Thomas doubters I say, "Bite me!"

Game 2: Some LittleThings Others May Have Missed

I've read in two different places that in Game 2 Tim Thomas let in a softy. I watched the goal in question in slow motion and in hi-def and I am convinced the puck was tipped. It grazed the blade of Gorges stick right in front of Thomas, changing the trajectory without slowing it down. The puck didn't get deflected much, but it was enough. Regardless, if you wanted to place blame it would be better placed on Alberts who knocked himself off his feet and got caught way up ice. And come on people, get real. Anytime a shot is taken when an opposing player is left all by himself driving right to the front of the net you simply cannot hang it on the goalie.

The other thing I haven't read about game 2 is how the B's started the second period so badly. There were matching minors as the first period ended, so the second period began 4 on 4. Whether it was a miscalculation or miscommunication I don't know, but the B's played the 4 on 4 like they were on the PK, going into a passive box in front of their net. I was already yelling at the TV before the goal was scored because you could see it coming from a mile away. Apparently Julien miscalculated. It just goes to show how razor thin the margins are for the Bruins defensively. They aren't likely to score more than three goals on any game, so two defensive letdowns and they may not be able to recover.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Game one of the series with Montreal was exactly what I expected. I hoped for more, of course, but had I been forced to make a detailed prediction before hand that's pretty much what I'd have come up with. This is why I didn't want the B's to play the Habs in the first round this season. It isn't difficult to see how this first playoff game for a young inexperienced team, played in a roaring Bell Centre against a team that has owned them all season, would send them reeling. It would have been a miracle if they'd won that game.

It was obvious that the Bruins played poorly all night in their own zone and everyone else has already written about it. I'll just add that Dennis Wideman in particular had a terrible start. He was totally off his game right from the first shift, bobbling the puck in his own zone, making poor decision, getting out of position, losing the puck at the opposing blue line on the PP, and letting Habs fly right past him into the zone unhindered. It was painful to watch. I kept yelling "Aw, no Dennis!" at the TV. What is his nickname anyhow? And why don't I know it?

But I did think the Bruins looked good on the PK. And until the Habs scored their 3rd goal the B's were doing that thing where they slowly take away the momentum of the other team in a grinding fashion. And if you take away the first two "gimme" goals the Habs win 2-1. So take heart, Bruins fans. It's a long series and nobody should have expected a win in the first game.

So now it starts in earnest. Lets hope the B's all pat themselves on the backs and say, "Wow we played in a playoff game!" and then decide their next goal is to win one.

As an aside, I read what Kevin Paul Dupont had to say in this morning's Globe and I am left bewildered. What did he expect? Hasn't he been paying attention? I think his tirade was out of place and poorly informed. He seemed angry that the Bruins didn't suddenly revert to, say, the 1972 team in the locker room before the game. I've been meaning to say this about KPD for some time, so here goes. I think he's a dinosaur. I've been reading him for years and once upon a time he seemed to have an inside track. He'd predict a trade and it would happen. It was like he had Sinden's or O'Connell's ear. Or they tipped him off to their moves or thinking ahead of time. But when management changed he became just another observer. Witness his claim that the B's were going to make a move before the trade deadline this year... and then his excuses afterward for why it didn't happen as he had predicted.

Not only does he no longer have the inside track, but he doesn't even seem to be paying attention. Toss in his ugly cynicism and I no longer see a reason to read him. Sadly there are bloggers out there who cover the B's better than KPD does. Here are two: Gerry Bourdeau and The Bruins Report.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Bandwagon Jumper's Guide to the Boston Bruins (Part II)

I've been a Bruins fan for a long time and I haven't been this excited about the team for many years. I love this team. For me it's not just about expecting them to win a cup for me. I enjoy vicariously following this family of eclectic and interesting people as they struggle for success. In part II of this series we will have a look at the Bruins stars.

At 6' 9" Bruins captain Zdeno Chara (defense #33) is the tallest man to ever play in the NHL. He's so big that when he checks people they just sort of disappear under him. Sometimes opposing players look like caged animals along the boards, the bars being his arms and legs. "Big Zee's" stick is so long it's said the the NHL dropped the maximum stick length rule to accommodate him. For a big man he's fast, although he can't exactly turn on a dime. But with that long reach and his smarts even the fastest players don't usually get by him. "Zee" is also renowned as a fitness fanatic who spends 6-7 hours per day training in the off season and is an avid cyclist. This season Zee had 51 points in 77 games, was second in scoring among NHL defensemen with 17, and was +14. He's the primary cog in both the power play and penalty kill and usually logs more minutes per game than any other Bruin. Last season he logged more minutes than any other player. This season he was a first-team all star and has won the NHL's hardest shot competition two years in a row.

Late in the season the Bruins played a critical game against the red hot Washington Capitols, who were making a strong run from behind in the standings and had defeated the B's in their previous meeting. Even though it was weeks before the end of the season the team knew that they had to win that game. Near the end of the first period Zee let go a big slapper from the point during a power play. He winced and headed down the tunnel. The report was that he had his skates off and would not be returning. But as the third period opened, with the B's down a goal, there was the Bruins captain on the bench. Late in the game he launched another of his huge slappers for the tying goal and the Bruins won in overtime. It turned out that he had a dislocated shoulder and missed several games afterward. After that I doubt that anyone who was paying attention will ever again claim that big Zee isn't a leader.

Center Marc Savard (#91) is said to be one of those guys we all knew in school who was always laughing and easy going, yet whenever he played any kind of game he always had to win (and usually did). "Savvy" is the guy who came up with Rally Caps for shootouts where all the players on the bench would turn their helmets around. It made them look rather silly, but it also loosened everyone up. When the Bruins did it last year they had huge success in the shootout.

Savard is known as one of the best playmakers in the NHL today. He's incredibly creative and never seems to do anything the same way twice, which can stymie opposing players and linemates alike. As a rookie with the Rangers he roomed on the road with Gretsky. Later with Atlanta he had a personal high of 97 points. In each of the last three seasons he's put up 60+ assists. This season he finished 3rd in the NHL with 63. Yet even with his big numbers there has been a knock against Savard: his defensive play. He's been on the minus side of the plus-minus for most of his NHL career. But this season was a breakout year for him defensively that saw him helping out in his own end at critical times. He finished the season +4.

Savard was an all-star this season and scored the winning goal for the Eastern Conference.

Goaltender Tim Thomas (#30) is one of those guys that people either love, or love to hate. He won the Seventh Player Award two years in a row yet he has been maligned by some Bruins fans. A common refrain last season was, "Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender." And apparently the Bruins GM agreed, at least to some extent, because his big move last summer was to sign free agent goaltender Manny Fernandez. But as I and others predicted "Tank" Thomas rose to the challenge with an amazing start to the season. At one time last fall he was ranked as the top player in the NHL by TSN. Timmy won the starting job long before Fernandez went down with a season-ending knee injury.

An incredible competitor, Thomas simply doesn't care how he looks. All he cares about is stopping the puck, sometimes flopping about in a most unseemly manner. Maybe it's because I've been a fan of goaltending for a long time--long before anybody thought to say there was a "right" way to play goal--but I saw greatness in him from his first game wearing a spoked-B. My favorite goaltender growing up was Tony Esposito. In those day fans were thrilled by goaltenders literally standing on their heads. Every goalie had his own unique style and that was celebrated. Tim Thomas has some of that in him, but today people expect all their goaltenders to play in the same conservative way and he doesn't fit the mold. But in the end, this doubting that he has consistently overcome in his career may be the very thing that has propelled him to greatness.

What Thomas lacked last season was a solid backup. Timmy is just too intense to play every game for long stretches at a time. He tires mentally. The late addition of Alex Auld has finally brought the Bruins (and Thomas) the quality backup they needed.

Thomas was an all-star this season and finished with 28 wins and a 2.44 GAA. His GAA would have been much better except that the Bruins gave up a few blowouts late in the season when it seemed the entire team failed to show up to play. Even then, his 0.921 shot percentage was the 4th best in the NHL.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

It's the Habs

According to the Bruins web site their first round opponent will be the Montreal Canadiens. The very thought of playing the Habs in the first round has been haunting me for weeks now. As a long-time Bruins fan I knew it was inevitable. This is the way it always was and always will be. The Habs and the Bruins in the playoffs. When I read the news I wasn't surprised, but I still felt an uneasiness in my stomach.

I know that the Bruins found some success against the Habs a decade ago, but I have a longer memory. I remember 1971 when the Habs stepped in the way of a repeat Cup win. And I remember too many men on the ice in 1979.

I have a short memory too. I recall 2000 when the Habs beat out the Conference-leading Bruins in the first round. But more than anything I have the painful memory of 2004 where the Bruins led 3 games to 1, yet somehow allowed the Habs to intimidate their way to a series win. We didn't know it at the time, and it took several years to run its course, but that game seven marked the end of an era for the Bruins.

And now we have a new team; a new GM, a new coach, and new players. So how will this new team stack up against the Habs? What will history tell of this era and the greatest rivalry in Hockey? If the regular season is any indication, it doesn't look good for Bruins fans. Montreal won all eight games this season, garnering 16 points in the process to the Bruins 1. To put that in perspective if you take away those 16 points the Habs end up in 11th place and out of the playoffs. If the Bruins had taken half the games in the season series, the Habs would have ended behind the Bruins in the standings.

As far as I'm concerned the Bruins have already had a successful season. They not only made the playoffs but they did it like Bruins, leaving nothing on the ice. When they needed to score or needed to win, they did. They are a team that has really already won a playoff series, with four wins and three regulation ties in their seven game playoff run. Every one of the points was critical and they got the job done.

I like Claude Julien's outlook on the playoffs: he said they have nothing to lose against the Habs and everything to gain. He's right. Should the Bruins upset Montreal in the first round it will be a historic victory that Bruins fans could savor for years to come.

But can the Bruins beat the team that they have lost ten games in a row to, going back to last season? I think the answer is yes. They could pull it off. Montreal is bound to come out a little cocky, which would work in their favor. And the Bruins did manage a regulation tie in that last game. The tide could be turning.

But I have to tell you that I am not optimistic. Why? Because the Bruins have fought for a playoff berth all year. That was their goal. They worked hard and faced down adversity to do it. Like I said, they already won a playoff series just to get there. But when they had much of the eastern conference in their rear view mirrors late in the season and the chance to move up in the standing, what did they do? They went into a slump. When they played their last game after making the playoffs what did they do? They lost.

My fear is this: the Bruins have already achieved their goal for the season. With nothing more to play for I am sadly predicting a loss to Montreal 4 games to 1. The Bruins surprised us all with their character this season. Let's hope I am wrong and they surprise us again. Should they beat Montreal, I believe that only Detroit would stop them from winning the cup.

But I must admit to an even bigger fear. Every home game against Montreal this year has been filled with large numbers of loud Habs fans. The prospect of seeing Chara booed in the garden during the playoffs--that is not something that I would enjoy one little bit.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Bandwagon Jumper's Guide to the Boston Bruins (Part 1)

"I gave up on the Bruins when they traded Joe Thornton."

"I gave up on the Bruins because Jacobs was too damned cheap."

"I gave up on the Bruins because the one time they made the playoffs they let Montreal make asses out of them."

"I gave up on the Bruins because they sucked after the lockout."

"I gave up on the Bruins because they were a bunch of over-paid pussies."

If you have ever said something like this then I have very good news for you. Those of us who stuck around after the lockout to see what would happen (all three) have this to report: the Bruins are back!

This guide is for those who gave up on the Bruins but are considering taking another look. I'll be bringing you up to date so you can impress your friends with your encyclopedic knowledge of the new team.

But first, some historical reality. Jacobs really was cheap and it really was a bad thing for the team. You weren't imagining it. But then something crazy happened: Jacobs drove the league into imposing a salary cap. Now with the salary cap in place he can no longer complain about his rich friends driving player prices up with their own money to boost their egos. The Bruins currently spend at or near the cap so the cheapness of Jacobs is no longer a factor. I know you wanted a new owner, but I'm here to say that it no longer matters.

In retrospect it's obvious: Mike O'Connell was a poor manager. That combined with Jacobs' unwillingness to spend the big bucks doomed the Bruins to mediocrity. His teams tended to have one good scoring line and little grit. They could put up big numbers in the regular season but come playoff time they didn't have what it took. Sure, they'd have one guy on the team whose only job was to have a fight. But that is no substitute for playing with the toughness that Bruins fans have come to expect. It was fake and ultimately unsatisfying. O'Connell's greatest achievement was for the Bruins to be humiliated in the first round of the playoffs by the Habs...

This one may be more difficult to swallow: Joe Thornton never really fit in. What he brought to the team was a lot of regular season goals and external validation; there was a buzz around Thornton from all around the continent. We could all bask in his glory. Yet even with all his potential Boston expected too much of him. Joe Thornton should never have been made Captain based on his promise alone. And he should never have been expected to be Neely or take his game to the next level in the playoffs. That's just not the player he is. Losing Joe was a sign of how poorly O'Connell managed the team. It was O'Connell who set Joe up for failure long before he traded him away.

But in case you hadn't noticed, Mike O'Connell is gone too. And Jacobs no longer has the need to be cheap. And despite being one of the biggest stars in the NHL, Thornton still has yet to be a leader or a force in the playoffs.

The Boston Bruins were begun again. And in the last two years they have built a new team that plays hard, physically, and with enormous heart. Peter Chiarelli has played it smart and patiently, making small moves that have incrementally made the team better. And the team in Providence is chocked full of talented, well coached future stars.

This year in particular it has all started to come together. The team is full of leaders, young and old. They stick up for one-another, dropping the gloves when necessary. Even PJ Axelsson dropped his gloves this season! They play with confidence and pride. They have a coaching staff who keeps them on an even keel and gives them a framework for team success. You get the feeling watching the Bruins these days that it doesn't matter who is in the lineup. The coaches could take the Baby B's and get them to the NHL playoffs through sheer grit and teamwork. I'm here to tell you that finally, this is Bruins.

And this time you can believe it.

Next time: we'll meet the team.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Two More Wins Can Seal It

Two wins in three games -- that's what the Bruins need to make the playoffs a certainty.

The point the Bruins recently garnered against the Sabres was a big one. Even if they run the table the Sabres can only manage a final tally of 91 points, which is where the Bruins stand now.

So that leaves Washington, and perhaps Carolina, as the remaining teams that could potentially squeeze the B's out of the post season. Washington can end the season with no more than 94 points, which is three more than the Bruins current total. If the B's pick up three more points then they will end in a tie with the Caps. But if that happens the Caps would have the tie breaker based on games won: the Caps would end the season with 43 wins and the B's would end with 41. So three points isn't good enough. The Bruins would be out.

Carolina stands at 90 points with three games remaining. The key game is the one between the Caps and Canes on Tuesday. About that game I know two things: I'll be watching, and I'll be rooting for the Canes. There are two basic scenarios to consider if both teams win their other two remaining games, which is quite likely given their opponents. If the Caps beat the Canes the Caps will finish with 94 points and manage a tie with the Canes, but with more wins the Canes have the tie breaker. So the only way the Caps can unseat the Canes and win their division is if the Canes lose or tie one of their other two games. If that happens, then the Canes would lose their No. 3 spot in the conference and finish with no more than 93 points. In that case the Bruins could squeak in with just three more points. But I wouldn't count on it. A better scenario is for the Canes to win. In that case the B's would face a Caps team with a mere 92 points. The Bruins would need only two more points to beat them out.

To recap the most likely scenarios:

If the Caps beat the Canes the B's would need four points. If the Canes beat the Caps two points would do the trick.

Regardless, if the Bruins win two more games nobody can catch them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Game 78 -- Ottawa Senators

Of the primary teams the Bruins are in a playoff race with going into game 78, the Caps had a win, while the Flyers and Sabres each came up with a single point.

For their part the Bruins matched up against the Ottawa Senators at home, where they earned a gutsy 4-0 win. It was a pretty interesting game. For most of the game the Bruins fought the puck, missing passes, overskating it, and just plain losing the thing. The game was much closer than the score would suggest. This was no blow out. The Sens really brought it, playing physically and with skill. But the Bruins just sort of ground them down, playing an extremely consistent game from the opening faceoff to the final horn.

A few weeks ago I was pondering what would happen if another key Bruin were to be injured. Each time this has happened the B's have faltered, made some adjustments, and returned as good as ever. What a testament to the coaching staff! Yet I wondered what would happen if something happened to Marc Savard. Given his ability to set up goals on a team that has trouble scoring, would that be too much for them to adjust to? Now that we have seen the Bruins without him for three games the answer is surprising. Not only were they able to adjust very quickly to his absence, but it seems to have been the best thing to happen to the team in a long time! Apparently his absence shocked the team out of its scoring slump. The main reason for this appears to be rookie David Krejci who in retrospect was poised to step in and step up, and this is exactly what he has done. But that isn't the only factor. Changing up the lines seems to have re-invigorated all the forwards. Muzz has suddenly found his skating legs. PJ has found his shot again, although he seems to be fighting the puck more than usual, and Sturm too has found his scoring touch. But its the kids who are now leading this team into the playoffs! Last night saw a big contribution from four forwards who are all 22 and under. And Lucic is still only 19!

Today the Bruins face the Sabres in game 79, the first of two remaining meetings between the clubs. I'm getting a bit worried about Thomas getting tired. If it were me I'd seriously consider starting Auld today. Unfortunately the pressure to win remains very high, and both the Caps and Flyers have already played and they both won. So here we go again; it's just another must win game.

I watched the end of the last game the Sabres played against Montreal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. They blew a two-goal lead late in the third and lost in OT. I watched the Buffalo Post Game show (how come I never get to see the NESN post game show on Center Ice?) and it was like a funeral. But they aren't quite dead yet. Their only hope is to beat the Bruins today. So here we go again; it's just another must win game against a team facing virtual elimination.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't Get Too Comfortable

So far as the Bruins playoff hopes go their home-and-home sweep of the Leafs is a very good thing. But it does not mean that a spot in the post season can't elude them. In fact, looking at the remaining schedule I'd say they are teetering on the brink of elimination.

TSN has this great page with which to to keep track of the Bruins position daily.

It comes down to this for the Bruins in their remaining five games: three more wins and the Bruins are likely in. Three losses and they need another team to falter. Four losses and they are likely out.

The race for the last two playoff spots is now pretty much a three team thing as the Sabres continue their seeming disinterest in making the post season. Even if they run the table and win their last five games they can only manage 93 points and I doubt that would be enough. Basically, one more loss and Buffalo is out.

So that leaves Philly (88), Boston (88) and Washington (86). What worries me are their schedules. The Flyers schedule is downright daunting with five games left, playing both New Jersey and Pittsburgh twice. Both those teams are in the race for the top seed. Their only gimme is the Islanders.

The Bruins also have it cut out for them, with two each against the Senators and Sabres, and a tough one vs. the Devils. At least in theory that's an easier schedule than Philly, since the Sens are coasting to their playoff spot and the Sabres have that seeming disinterest I spoke of earlier. But obviously each of these teams can be very dangerous! If they take one vs. the Sens and one vs. the Sabres (which is the most likely outcome) then they will likely need to beat the Devils.

The Capitols have it relatively easy with two against the Panthers, one vs. the Lightening, and their only big one: Carolina. It is quite possible they will run the table, which would leave them with 94 points. Not only might that be enough to move into the top eight, but given this schedule they might still take the division from Carolina. The key game for both teams will obviously be the one where they meet. A good guess would be for the Caps to reach 92 points in the end, which would mean the Bruins must pick up at least 6 more points (I believe they have the tie breaker). If the Caps do run the table, the Bruins will need 8 points (4 wins) to best them, and in that case their best hope may be to do better than Philly or Carolina, should the Canes lose their hold on the division.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Making Sense of the Playoff Picture

If you have been following along I have been providing what I call a baseline analysis every Monday. But it is no longer required with so few games left. The latest standings provide an excellent idea of where the teams will stand at the end of the season.

That said, comparing the latest baseline values to those previous give a good idea of which teams are moving and in what direction. Of the teams near the top the Canadiens and Penguins have been steadily improving and are more or less tied for first. The Devils have faltered this week. The Senators have been remarkably consistent, motoring along playing .500 hockey.

The Leafs and Panthers have been the big upward movers. The Rangers and Flyers have inched up, while the Bruins have inched downward. The Sabres have held steady.

Here is how the eastern conference playoff picture looks on Monday, March 24:

PIT 0-6, 106
MON 0-6, 107
CAR 0-6, 99
NJD 1-6, 105
OTT 1-6, 103
NYR 3-4, 102
BOS 5-2,98
PHI 4-2, 98
WAS 6-0, 94
BUF 6-1, 95
TOR 6-0, 92
FLA 6-0, 93

The second item is how many games each team requires to make the 94 point playoff target. Although a team may make the eighth spot with fewer points, it is fairly safe to assume that if a team makes 94 points they will very likely make the playoffs.

The third item is the total number of points available should the team win all their remaining games.

Looking at the data we can see that the top seed in the conference is still up for grabs among the Canadiens, Penguins and Devils. All we can say with certainty is that these teams will be the 1, 2, and 4 seeds.

It is very unlikely that the Caps will catch the Canes for the top spot in the southeastern conference (and 3rd seed).

The Sens only need to win one of their remaining games to make the playoffs. The Rangers have done well enough that they only have to win 3 of their remaining 7.

At the bottom the Lightening and Thrashers are out of it, and it is safe to say that the Islanders and Leafs are such long shots that they are out of it too.

That leaves a 4-team logjam for the bottom two playoff slots: the Bruins, Flyers, Capitols and Sabres. Any two of these teams can make the playoffs. The Bruins and Flyers have a slim advantage and the Sabres are in a slightly better position than the Caps. For what it's worth, in the critical last four weeks the Flyers and Caps have been moving up, the Bruins have been sliding, and the Sabres have held steady. If that trend continues the Flyers will end up in 7th and the Bruins should edge the Caps for 8th, but all it would take would be a hot or cold streak by any of these teams...

Now down to the Bruins. Not making the playoffs would be easy: all they would have to do is lose their seven remaining games. To ensure they make the playoffs a 5-2 record would work nicely. Otherwise there is a simple rule of thumb: in order to steal the Bruins playoff spot, the Caps or Sabres need to win at least one more game than the Bruins. For example, if the Bruins win only 3 games, they may well find themselves out of the playoff picture should the Caps or Sabres win 4.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Losing Twice to the Habs would be a Very Bad Thing

A very, very bad thing. Here's why: if the Bruins don't get any points against Montreal in this home-and-home series, I believe the most likely scenario is that Montreal will use those 4 points to win the conference. Meanwhile the Bruins will likely struggle for the 8th spot. See the problem now?

While playing the hated Habs in the first round of the playoffs would be absolutely historic should the Bruins win the series, history, both in the distant and recent past, says that is unlikely to happen. The Habs are a jinx--one this young team needs to face in it's first playoff series like the proverbial hole in the head.

Tomorrow, March 20, is Bobby Orr's birthday. It is also my birthday. Boys, I'm beggin' ya please, bring us a win!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Baseline Monday March 17

This weeks Baseline appears below. The Baseline is an indication of the final standings assuming all teams go .500 for the rest of the season. If a team remains steady from previous baseline they are playing .500 hockey. If they climb, they are doing better. Teams that expect to make the playoffs should generally climb for the remainder of the season.

1 NJD 100
2 PIT 99
3 CAR 91
4 MON 98
5 OTT 96
6 NYR 93
7 BOS 92
8 PHI 89
9 BUF 88
11 WAS 87
13 FLA 86
12 TOR 83
10 NYI 80
14 ATL 78
15 TBL 76

Of the teams in the thick of the division and conference title races, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Carolina have all improved their position while Montreal has remained steady.

Washington has made solid gains against Carolina's hold on the southeast division title.

Of the remaining teams in the playoff hunt, the Rangers and Sabres have improved while the Bruins and Flyers have slipped a little. Washington has come on strongly, knocking on the door of both the eighth spot and the 3rd spot (by way of the southeast division title). Florida has also had a good week, although it is likely too little too late, whereas the Islanders have fallen. For a while there last week it looked as if the teams were sorting themselves out near the bottom, but it has once again become a horse race.

The Bruins are still in good stead, although they have lost some ground. With 9 games remaining they need to pick up 11 points to end up at the 94 point playoff target, which translates to going 5-3 plus an OT loss, or 4-2 and three OT losses. Remaining games are against "those who shall not be named" (2), Toronto (2), Ottawa (2), Buffalo (2), and New Jersey. Five wins alone would probably be enough to make the playoffs. They could trade wins with Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Buffalo, and either beat New Jersey or take two games from one of the others.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Great Game

"What a great game!" Believe it or not, that's what I was thinking as the seconds ticked off in the 3rd period against the Flyers and the Bruins were about to lose again. Another game, another loss, another single goal scored.

But I didn't really care. The Bruins outplayed the Flyers for most the game and completely dominated all but a few minutes in the 3rd period. They didn't win, but they deserved to. Timmy stood on his head. The power play generated excellent scoring opportunities. The penalty kill was awesome. No regrets. Well... Ok, maybe Ference could have not turned the puck over so many times...

That's exactly what I was thinking when Ference scored the tying goal with 26 seconds remaining.

When the Bruins won the game in overtime, it was just icing on the cake.

What a great game!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bruins a Capitol Target

From the Washington Post:
"Caps fans should root for the Flyers tomorrow afternoon. Why? Because the team the Caps might be most likely to catch is now, in my opinion at least, the reeling Boston Bruins."
Those fighting words are from Corey Masisak, a writer from the Washington Post. He argues that the best chance the Capitols have to make the playoffs is for the Bruins to self destruct. He writes, "...two more losses by Boston would officially put them in a huge tailspin and maybe they don't recover."

Monday, March 10, 2008


I'm really impressed with Marco Sturm. I hadn't read it elsewhere, but the "Sturminator" has slowly but surely turned into a great two-way player. The first time I noticed it was when PJ Axelsson was out and he left a huge hole to fill on the penalty kill. It's difficult not to notice that PJ clears the zone more often than any other player, and if you can't clear the zone you are in trouble. It was Sturm who stepped up into his vacant position. PJ was barely missed! And since then Sturm has been a big reason why the Bruins PK has been much improved. But not only that, but he's often to be found out there quietly back checking 5 on 5. Sturm, who usually gets noticed because he now leads the Bruins in scoring with 24 goals, is also a healthy +8, second only to Axelsson among Bruins forwards. You heard it here first--if he keeps this up Sturm could be a Selke candidate some day.

I'm really impressed with Phil Kessel. It's been fun watching him change from a raw kid who looked like he was scared to death out there into a smarter, feistier, more confident and more physical player. The great thing about Kessel is that he just keeps improving. Not by leaps and bounds, but by small, sure steps. His youthful bad habits have been painful to watch at times, yet one by one they slowly shrink and disappear. Most recently he had been flying into the offensive zone only to turn the puck over, creating a rush the other way. I kept saying to myself that it was only a matter of time before the team got burned, and sure enough, in the recent OT loss against the Panthers it was one of these rushes that led to the losing goal. But the great thing about Kessel is that he hasn't made that mistake again. Suddenly he's being more creative entering the zone and doing a much better job protecting the puck. Kessel has 32 points on the season and has improved to -5. It may seem odd to say for a kid who made the NHL at 19, but I think Kessel is a late bloomer. I think in ten years this guy is going to be considered one of the great forwards of his generation.

I'm really impressed with David Krejci. Once he finally got his first goal in that shootout winner he went on a three-game scoring streak. But more importantly, in the last couple of games he's raised his overall level of play dramatically. Where Kessel has taken months to improve Krejci has exploded overnight. Suddenly brimming with confidence he's playing with enormous energy and grit. Mark my words, when the Bruins make the playoffs he's going to be a huge contributor. In 43 games David Krejci has 18 points and is a -7. Those numbers are somewhat misleading because they reflect his youthful lack of confidence, which has now very suddenly come to an end.

I'm really impressed with Milan Lucic. I almost didn't mention "Looch." Not because I don't think he is impressive--he's downright awesome! It's just that if you are reading this and haven't heard about his exploits then you must have been under a rock somewhere. This huge kid is going to be the dominant power forward in the NHL. Milan Lucic has 21 points, is -2, and at 19 has already beaten the crap out of just about every tough guy in the NHL.

To those fans out there who gave up on the Bruins when the lockout came or when Thornton was traded, I say, wake up! The future of the Bruins is brighter than it's been since... well, 1967.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Baseline March 9th

This weeks Baseline appears below. The Baseline is an indication of the final standings assuming all teams go .500 for the rest of the season. If a team remains steady from previous baselines they are playing .500 hockey. If they climb, they are doing better. Teams that expect to make the playoffs should generally climb for the remainder of the season.

1 NJD 99
2 MON 98
3 CAR 90
4 PIT 97
5 OTT 95
6 NYR 94
7 BOS 93
8 PHI 91
9 BUF 87
11 WAS 84
10 NYI 83
13 FLA 83
12 TOR 82
14 ATL 80
15 TBL 73

Of the teams in the thick of the division and conference title races, New Jersey, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Carolina have all improved their position while Ottawa has remained steady.

Carolina has solidified its hold on the southeast division title.

Of the remaining teams in the playoff hunt, the Rangers have jumped past the Bruins, while the Bruins have held steady. The Islanders and Panthers have also improved their positions somewhat.

A good target for making the playoffs remains 94 points. For the Bruins to make that total they will need to go one point better than .500 for the remaining 13 games. Here's hoping they are over their Jeckyll and Hyde routine and start playing more consistently. If they do they should end with 95 points or more.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bruins Suddenly Lacking

Over the years I've been told I had blinders on, called a Jacobs apologist, etc. And it's true that I think being a fan means standing by the team through thick and thin. That can mean finding something to cheer for in the triumphs of a single player when winning as a team is elusive, or in a single victory when the playoffs are beyond reach. And it means that I derive no pleasure in angry rants against the players, coaches, management, or ownership. It's likely the reason I feel this way is that I was not born to the Bruins. They were never my team because Boston was the city I lived in. I did not inherit them from my father. Long ago I consciously chose the Bruins as my team; they did not choose me. I don't feel they owe me a Stanley Cup run every year.

But even I have my limits! All I've ever asked for was effort. Win or lose, just do your best and I'll be satisfied. That is my personal pact with my team.

Forget the score last night. Forget the opponent. What I can't get out of my mind is players standing around; defensemen looking like fence posts as opponents swirl past them; goaltenders literally surrounded by opposing players.

Is this how it's going to end? After everything they've been through all year? After bouncing back big again and again when they suffered a setback. After fighting through injuries that mixed up lines and brought up young players from Providence who would rise to the challenge? Are they going to just give up, becoming last years team again, proving the nay sayers right all along?

I was so angry after last night's "effort" that I told my wife that I thought the players should be forced to stand outside the Garden and personally write refund checks to everyone who attended.

'Nuf said.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Baseline

I've come up with an analysis of the eastern conference standings that I call the Baseline. It represents the final standings if each team goes .500 for the rest of the season. This is useful for two reasons: it accounts for the differing numbers of games left to play for each team and given how difficult it is to climb in the standings when games can be worth three points it provides a reasonable indication of the final standings.

1 PIT 97
2 NJ 97
3 CAR 87
4 MON 96
5 OTT 95
6 BOS 93
7 NYR 92
8 PHI 89
9 BUF 88
10 NYI 85
11 WAS 85
12 TOR 82
13 FLA 81
14 ATL 80
15 TBL 75

I doubt any of the contending teams is going to go on a big losing streak. So the final standings will be determined by which teams can do better than .500.

Looking at the table we can see that first place in the conference is very much up for grabs. Nobody is going to inherit the conference title based on their current record. Excluding Carolina, any one of the top 7 teams has a legitimate shot provided they can manage a significant winning streak in their remaining games.

The race for the southeast division title is pretty much between Carolina and Washington. The division title is the only way any teams from the southeast are going to the playoffs. Washington is going to have to pick up 3 or more points against Carolina, which is very possible.

The eighth and final spot is also very much up for grabs. It's safe to say that Tampa Bay is out of it. Atlanta, Florida and Toronto are also long shots. The bubble teams are the Senators, Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Sabres, and Islanders. That's six teams vying for four spots.

As for the Bruins, as long as they can go .500 for their remaining games they should make it to the post season. If they go on another winning streak the conference title is in reach.

I'll redo the analysis every few days to see how things shake out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pick Your Poison

So last night the Bruins got handed a 10-2 drubbing by the Caps. I hate to say it, but I sort of saw it coming. I forget where, but I kept seeing this headline. It said something to the effect that there were good signs for the Bruins in their OT win against Atlanta. And I kept thinking, "Really?" Because I thought just the opposite. The game against Atlanta had all the seeds of the loss to the Caps. The Bruins had an easy time gaining the zone and setting up for a shot, yet almost all of them seemed to miss the net. It could have been 10-2 Bruins, yet it went to OT. And as the game wore on, particularly after the Bruins tied it in the 3rd, they seemed to run down as a team.

Fortunately I was once again saved from seeing a painful loss because the game was on Versus, which meant it was blacked out on Center Ice. The Bruins are now 2-4 on Versus having had opposing scores of 10, 8 and 6! What's up with that? Is it a Versus jinx? There may be another jinx at work: against Huet this year the Bruins are 0-4. Of course the other losses against Huet came when he was playing for "that team." You know, the team that shall not be named. Against them the Bruins are 0-6 and have been outscored 32-12.

The remaining games of the season are not going to be easy. The Bruins own their destiny, as the teams in front of them face challenges out west while they have the opportunity to beat up on those trailing behind. Every win will take them one step closer to the playoffs and perhaps even a Division or Conference title. But few of any of the remaining games will be easy. They play Huet and co. again on Saturday. Next week brings embarrassed Ottawa and Tampa Bay teams that will be out for revenge. And of course before its all over they will face the unmentionables twice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Will the Bruins Make the Playoffs?

Last March I looked at the Bruins playoff chances. At the time there were 13 games left and it was expected that in order to make the 8th spot the Bruins would have to pick up 20 points by going 10-3. Of course that didn't happen, and it didn't surprise anyone. Writing that post, I had the same feeling of doom I often experienced in the 3rd period last year, regardless of the score. The Bruins so often found a way to lose. I knew that the team hadn't found itself and it was unlikely that it would in the short time remaining.

So where are we this year? I get the sense that most Bruins fans have been collectively holding their breath since October. Waiting to see. Waiting for the breakdown, the losing streak, the great fall in the standings. And I've been one of them. But somewhere along the line, and I can't point to a particular moment, I got used to winning. Ever so slowly I lost that sense of doom in the 3rd--that here we go again feeling--and it's been replaced with a calm confidence. I now enjoy most games from start to finish; like the Bruins I simply assume they are going to win, and if they don't? Well, it's no big deal. They will get it back the next game.

With 18 games left, and a generally agreed upon target of 94 points to make the playoffs, the Bruins need 18 points. That's 1 point per game or 0.500 hockey. Can they do that? There is no question in my mind that they can. And they will. Just as last year that 3-rd period sense of doom made it seem unlikely that the Bruins would find a winning streak, this years calm confidence tells me not to worry.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bruins Stand Pat at Trade Deadline

And this old fan is breathing a big sigh of relief. I read these posts about trading Murray or Kessel or Axelsson and it makes my blood boil!

Thank you Mr. Chiarelli. May you always have the latitude to stand pat if that is what you think is best.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Metropolit for President

Ok, maybe not for president. But if I were allowed to vote for the Seventh player award (which I'm not due to a minor home address technicality) Glen Metropolit would be my choice. For those who may not know, the seventh player award is meant for "the player who has gone above and beyond the call of duty and exceeded the expectations of Bruins fans."

I must admit that when I first read that coach Julien wanted to invite Metropolit to training camp, citing his ability to fit into just about any situation, my first thought was, "Are we really that desperate?" Not that I knew anything about him, mind you, only that he sounded like some sort of malcontent, ne'er do well, or has-been. I mean, why didn't anyone offer the guy a contract?

Since then Metropolit has played his heart out for the Bruins, jumping into lines when players were injured, finding time on both the power play and penalty kill, and playing all-out all the time. He's played in every game this season, has 24 points to his credit, and is a healthy +5. But most telling of all, he leads the team in game winning goals (with 5).

Some may say that Tim Thomas deserves their vote again this year. But I knew Tim Thomas was going to be a great goaltender from his first half-season with the B's. And now, sure enough, he's an all-star. I think it's time we gave Timmy his due; for him this award is a back-handed compliment because it's really about how so many people have had such low expectations for him. It's time for that to end.

Phil Kessel? It's true that he impresses me with how he continues to improve his game. Given that the only assets he brought with him into his first NHL game were speed and a scoring touch, it's somewhat ironic that lately he's been winning the battles along the boards yet can't seem to find the net. In time that will come. This kid has a great future ahead of him--but I don't see his development as being "beyond the call" or above expectations.

P.J. Axelsson? Savvy Bruins fans have known for years that he's one of the most talented of the well rounded players in the league. It's true he's stepped it up again this year, but is that enough? Only fans who haven't been paying attention are going to consider this exceeding expectations.

I am sure the fan favorite is going to be Milan Lucic and he'll likely win. But this kid is destined for stardom. He made the young stars team and will be in the running for rookie of the year. While its true he's young and extraordinary, I don't think that's really what this award is about.

So that brings me back to Glen Metropolit. He plays every game like it's going to be his last, and has become a sort of Micheal Peca for the Bruins. There is no question in my mind that he deserves the award.

But there is one question left unanswered; one that has me scratching my head. Why didn't anyone offer this guy a contract last summer? I'll bet a few GM's are scratching their heads too, and maybe shaking them a bit as well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Joy

I've been thinking about football lately. I have a new friend who grew up in Boston and who has kids about the same age as mine. We've all been playing hockey at our outdoor rink and having a great time. Anyhow, he's a football fan and I found myself trying to explain succinctly why I no longer follow the sport closely.

I was a huge fan of both the NFL and college football for many years, and have some great memories of the sport. I was in the stands when Marshall Faulk played his first college game, a redshirt coming off the bench in the second quarter to replace an injured running back. He came out of nowhere and spent the whole rest of the day breaking out for one long run after another, setting the NCAA single-game rushing record. And there's that excitement and anticipation when the quarterback steps back and unleashes a bomb. Fifty thousand people standing and holding their breath as the ball arcs toward the speeding receiver down the sideline.

When trying to explain why I gave up football I've told people I was fed up with the inner-city in-your-face culture where winning is everything and sportsmanship is uncool. But that's not the main reason. When I think about football, I think of long dark Sundays, headaches, and malaise. Watching the game on TV has always left me feeling drained and even depressed--even when my team won. And if they didn't I was lost. Each game is an epic. Yet it all too often comes down to one play in the end: a missed field goal, or a winning touchdown called back on a penalty. The game has so much to offer. It's an epic battle, and it's often very exciting. But for me there's no joy in it. There's just no joy.

I was thinking about this as I was watching the Bruins play the Predators last night, sitting there with this huge grin on my face. I found myself laughing out loud. There was Timmy making huge saves, even an old-fashioned two-pad stack! And Metropolit deking like an all-star, scoring not once, but twice. That unbelievable pass Savvy made--a spinorama behind the back, right on the tape. And that Predator bowling over Timmy and Timmy squirming underneath trying to fight him through his pads. It was great fun.

It was joyous.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Some random thoughts from the last few days...

Marc Savard has been belatedly named to the all-star game. My thoughts on this: huh? But of course he deserves to be there (as does Timmy). According to Fluto Shinzawa he's replacing the injured Dany Heatley.

Speaking of all-stars, has anyone else noticed how Chara's play has stepped up since he was named to the team? He seems to be skating and stick handling more. I swear he looks like a smaller man with the puck. I keep thinking, "Who is that defenseman... Oh, it's 33... wow. Didn't know he could do that."

And another thing: the NHL all-star game is a joke. Picking the starting teams via fan-polling on the web is just plain stupid. It's nothing more than an excuse for the NHL to harvest information on fans to be used by their marketing department. The all-star game should have more dignity than that. I say, let the players choose who goes.

And speaking of marketing, I bought a couple of hats online the other day from the Bruins store. I immediately started receiving email spam from the NHL even though I had declined all their "newsletters." That's just slimy. Customers (um, I mean fans) should be treated with more respect than that. Maybe next time I'll buy some knock-offs on ebay instead.

Jordan Sigalet is back to playing with the baby B's. Man, it's great to see him succeed despite that damned disease. I hope we one day see him play in the NHL.

It's difficult not to notice how the overall amount of blogging by my fellow Bruins bloggers is down this year. Maybe its because things have been going fairly well. But it's not like there hasn't been anything to blog about. I would have expected to read more about Bergeron's hit, for instance. I suspect it's because most of us fans are still waiting to see if the Bruins are truly for real. I'm sure we'll find out before June.

And hey, you! Boston sports media! You know who you are. Let me give you a tip. I know that math isn't something that athletes or journalists are known to excel at, but geeze... there is this symbol called a plus sign, see. It has an analogue called a minus sign. They look like this: +, -. Maybe you've seen them? Believe it or not even us hockey types are familiar with what they mean. So instead of typing, "Axelsson has a plus-minus rating of plus-10 and Kessel has a plus-minus of minus-9", give us a break! It's just as clear to say, "Axelsson has a plus-minus rating of +10 and Kessel has a -9. Actually, come to think of it, that's more clear. Because "plus-9" is confusing, what with both the plus and the minus. In fact, I argue that if you wrote, "Axelsson is +10 and Kessel is -9," everyone would know what you were talking about (except perhaps your editor). Or do they pay you by the word? Not that any of you guys are going to read this, but I did have fun getting it off my chest nonetheless.

Is it Thursday yet?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rattled and Disappointed

I'm of course disappointed that the Bruins have lost yet another game to the hated habs. But this time it's more than just another loss in a long season. It's the way they lost that really gets to me. The habs are very good, and they played well. But this game was winnable. Forget the messy first period and all the penalties. A bad penalty is at least understandable exuberance. No, what has me really depressed is what happened in the 3rd period.

The score was 3-2 and the B's were gaining momentum. They were dominating and generating scoring opportunities. One hard shift led to a penalty, as hard shifts often do. Here was their big chance to tie the game. But the PP unit came out flat. They looked uncertain, tentative, and unnerved. They looked rattled, almost scared. I couldn't believe it. They made bad decisions and even worse passes. What really got me was that it wasn't due to particularly great penalty killing. It was just their mindset when they skated out. I was yelling at the TV all through it, and when their pitiful excuse for a power play was over the next shift came out the same way. It was quickly 4-2 and the game was over. If they start selling Timmy out regularly like they did on the last goal then this season is going to end up looking just like the last one. No goaltender can stop a two on zero.

For me this was the most disappointing loss of the season so far. It really rattled me. I guess it's because I don't understand it. What happened? Why did those guys get unnerved like that? It reminds me of last year when they would sometimes have a great first period only to come out for the second like they just didn't give a crap anymore. I never did get that.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just in a "glass half empty" kind of mood. Losing to the habs can do that to a fan, I guess. Maybe I should be glad that this is the first time all season that they have turned it on only to collapse when it mattered. Maybe I should assume that it will be a mistake they will learn from and it won't happen again. But that's for tomorrow. Right now I'm just plain disappointed.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The B's Are Back (Again)

Here is a snapshot of the 2007/2008 Boston Bruins: they fight their way to within a few points of the conference leading Senators, only to lose decisively to them for the third time. Then with a pair of key defensemen and sniper veteran Glen Murray out with injuries they go on a six-game losing streak capped off by a 5-0 stinker against the Thrashers. "The wheels have come off," exclaims the NESN broadcast team. Two days later they meet the Thrashers again and give up another two points in another poorly played first period. That's a total of seven unanswered goals against. Game over right? Season over right?

Final score: Bruins 5, Thrashers 2. And in the next game against the rolling and hungry Capitols the B's look to be right back in their old form as if it was nothing more than a little blip along the way.

This sort of comeback from adversity is impressive, and it's not the first time. The B's were rolling early on until Bergeron's concussion. They were shaken at first, emotionally and because the lines had to be reconstructed. But within a few games they had adjusted and they looked like they had before.

Then it was revealed that goaltender Manny Fernandez was injured, along with Shawn Thornton and Aaron Ward. Again, the team hit the skids for a while, and again they bounced back to their earlier form.

That time people said that it was only the play of hot goaltender Tim Thomas that got them through it. A fellow blogger called the B's a, "one man team." Then the worst happened: Tim Thomas went down with an injury himself. The B's relied on young prospect Rask for a few games and it was rough for a while. Then they acquired discarded goaltender Alex Auld from Phoenix and he went on a huge and unlikely hot streak, and somehow the B's bounced back once again.

These things--this overcoming adversity--is the stuff that great teams are made of. It's the stuff, dare I say, that champions are made of. This is the kind of team that would maybe lose a game or even two against Montreal in the playoffs after going up 3 games to one, but they would never lose the series. I'm not saying they will win the Cup. In the end they simply may not be good enough. But I think we can all rest assured that the Bruins will give their absolute best trying, and as a fan I have never asked for more than that.

The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins are more than the sum of their individual talent. The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins have character. The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins have... Claude Julien.

This fan thanks you, Claude.