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!

1 comment:

eclinchy said...

Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward is chatting Monday, June 9, at 12 p.m. ET on Please spread the word. Thanks.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is chatting on June 16 at 12 p.m. ET on Please spread the word. Thanks.

--Evans Clinchy, new media intern,