Thursday, April 26, 2012

The End Comes Early

The end comes early to all but one team out of thirty. That is the bitter truth. All else being even, the odds of winning the cup at the start of the season are 30:1. Bruins fans should remember that what is truly out of the ordinary is to be the last team standing, not the abrupt end of a season.

Why did the Bruins lose to the Caps? You can run down your fingers making an impressive list of reasons, including injuries (Bergeron, Horton, McQuaid), inconsistent officiating, and less than stellar play from some key players, or simply pick one star player to dump all your anger onto because he never got up to speed or had a less than perfect game along the way (Lucic, Krejci, Thomas, or even Marchand).

Me? I personally blame one man, and one man alone, for the Bruins loss in this series: Dale Hunter. I knew from about half way through the first game that this series was going to be a tough one to win. Because Hunter, the Caps coach, designed a defensive system that would keep the Bruins off the board and frustrate their forwards. It was as if the Bruins were playing themselves at their defensive best. When it came right down to it, the two teams were a near perfect match. What we witnessed was the closest playoff series in NHL history, the first with six one goal games, and it eventually went to seven, only to end in overtime. When it comes right down to it, they could have skipped playing and simply flipped a coin.

When the playoffs started I did what I always do. I set my own personal goals for the team; I set the bar. Only if they didn't make the bar would I be bitterly disappointed, upset, or angry. My realistic expectations were simple: play hard and don't lose a series in less than seven games. Looking around, there are a lot of teams out there that could have been expected to achieve that goal, and didn't: Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Bruins fans: if you think it was painful to lose in OT in game seven, consider how it would feel to be dominated by the Kings, winning only a single playoff game.

I wish the Caps luck on winning the cup. I have no idea if they can beat any of the other teams remaining in the playoffs or if they were just the perfect Bruin killers. We will see. But they played very hard, showed a lot of grit, and didn't whine. For that, I give them a tip of my Bruins cap.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How The Mighty Have Fallen

As we await game 7 vs. the Caps, looking around I see a bloodbath in the western conference and the makings of one in the east. All the teams in the west that were picked as favorites to win the cup have fallen: Vancouver in 5 to the Kings (how sweet is that B's fans?), San Jose in 5 to Saint Louis, Chicago in 6 to Phoenix, and Detroit in 5 to Nashville. None of these "great" teams even took it to the full seven games!

In the east, vaunted Pittsburgh has fallen to Philly in 6, and Boston and New York have each had to force a game 7 against Washington and Ottawa, respectively. Does anybody actually care about New Jersey and Florida? Didn't think so.

It is entirely possible that we will soon see every "top" team eliminated from the playoffs, which would leave a bizarre landscape. We already know that the Western Conference Final will be between either Nashville or Phoenix on one side, and either Los Angeles or Saint Louis on the other. Could it end up being either Ottawa or Washington on one side vs. New Jersey or Philadelphia on the other in the Eastern Conference Final? Or will one or both pre-playoff favorites (Boston and New York) survive?

Frankly, it is difficult for me to imagine Ottawa beating anybody in the playoffs. The one thing I knew for certain going in was that, should the Bruins play the Sens, the Bruins would win that series easily. To see the Rangers struggle against them boggles my mind. It certainly takes some of the edge off the Ranger's reputation.

One possibility is that the Rangers will fall and the Bruins will prevail. It would be tempting to think that the way had been cleared for a second cup with all the other "contenders" eliminated. But of course it doesn't work that way. Imagine the Bruins losing in the Cup Final to the Kings... it could happen!

On the other hand, consider a second round match-up between the Bruins and the Rangers. Now that I'd like to see!

But back to earth for a minute here. The Bruins are playing the Caps tonight in game 7. I was very impressed by the way the Caps battled in game 6. At times it looked like they were the ones facing elimination. Compared to them, the Bruins are hard to figure. The Bs effort level is inconsistent, yet it seems that inconsistency often works in their favor because they can punch it into that higher gear when they need to.

I thought the Caps sat back just a bit in the OT in game 6. All it took was one mistake and the Bruins made them pay. The fact that it was Backstrom who made that mistake does not bode well for the Bruins in game 7. He's been their best player in the series and he's going to be looking for redemption. On the other hand, a talented young player like Seguin on a roll can be an unstoppable force. Either team could win this. The biggest wild card is whether nor not the Bruins playoff magic that won them a Stanley Cup will continue.

So far we have seen Seguin step up to be the hero in game 6, Chara in game 3, and Kelly in game 1. Marchand was the Bruins best player in their game 5 loss and he needs to bring that same intensity again. His game has not consistently had the same edge since his bogus suspension. Perhaps it will be Marchand who steps up as the hero tonight. Or maybe it will be Lucic, Krejci, Rolston, or even Campbell. Can't wait to find out!

The one thing that seems certain is that Tim Thomas will be stellar in goal.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


As we await the start of game 6, I offer these minor observances.

Pierre Macguire is the guy stuck in the glass box between the benches during NBC coverage of Bruins games.

Here are the top four reasons Pierre Macguire is Annoying:
4. He thinks there is a Bruin named "Greg Kelly" 

3. He makes too much of line match-ups. While it is useful to know that Chara isn't out there against Ovechkin, his histrionics when this happens are over the top.

2. He continues to pronounce Chara as "Chaira." Just stop already. Maybe Big Z should skate by, "accidentally" with his elbow out...

1. He goes off on some wild unsupported theory and then never let's go even after it has become obvious to everyone else that he's off his rocker. Example: Lucic loses his temper too easily and the Caps are getting the best of him.

Other annoyances:

Now that NBC has the rights to every playoff game, NHL Center Ice can no longer carry a single one. They used to be able to carry local broadcasts for the first two rounds. That means no Jack and Brick for the playoffs, which takes a lot of the fun away. I'd call that more tragic than annoying, however. What I find annoying is that I am paying more than ever for Center Ice!

I have not seen a simple tag on the calf called as a slash since the lockout. Since that time it has been about getting the stick up on the hands or arm. So what the hell was that penalty about against the B's at the end of game 5?

How can I be the only person on the planet who sees the Caps constantly grabbing hold of Bruins sticks near their net? Is that not supposed to be a penalty? A Bruin with the puck drives along the wing, passing to the center who is crashing the net. The pass bounces past. Ok, so the defenseman did a great job tying him up. But look more closely and you will often find a hand pulling the Bruin's stick away from the puck. Since when are you allowed to do that? There have been similar instances during rebounds when Bruins are scrambling in front of the net. I think this is the main reason the Bruins haven't scored more goals. I know they allow players to get away with more in front of the net, but this looks like a return to the kind of "clutching and grabbing" we saw prior to the lockout. I for one don't like it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shock and Anger

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a die-hard fan of Tim Thomas. But I am not blind. My reaction to the winning goal by Washington was shock, followed by anger as time ran out. There is no way to sugar coat it; Tim Thomas let his team down at a critical moment when he failed to make that routine save. I have closely  watched Timmy's entire NHL career, and that was easily the worst non-save of his career. One thing that made it so unfortunate was how the rest of the team had once again found it within them to dig deeper once they were down 2 goals in the second period. It was an impresive display of what made them champs last year, only to be thrown away with that goal.

What happens next will determine Thomas' future with the club. As I have written before there are many Thomas doubters out there eager for an excuse to get rid of him. If the Bruins lose the series some people will forget the stellar GAA and the huge game-saving saves he has made, inluding several in this same game.

Hopefully it was just one of those unexplainable mistakes that every human makes from time to time and rather than undermine the team it will only make them all play harder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Bruins are Made For the Playoffs

This new Bruins era takes a little getting used to. In the old days the regular season mattered. Hell, in some seasons it was all we got. Now that we live in the Post-Cup era the regular season seems little more than a very long, very tedious preseason. It seems clear that the fans aren't the only ones to see it this way; the Bruins are a team made for the playoffs, as are many of their star players. The ever-widening grin on Milan Lucic's face as we neared the season's end pretty much said it all.

It seems to me that the most impressive thing about these Bruins is the culture of the team; a proud, competitive culture where everyone has each-others back. This culture didn't happen overnight. It was grown and cultivated one win and one defeat at a time over the past 5 years. Ultimately it gives them the ability to take the initiative when the game is on the line, to snatch victory from defeat, and to battle back from disappointment. It brings the gift of the playoff gear. Some teams and some players don't have a playoff gear. The ultimate examples of that for me are Joe Thornton and the Sharks. Season after season they play hard and do well. But come playoff time they can't seem to take it to the next level. Every year some other team finds a way to elevate their game and eliminates them from the playoffs. All the while a player like Joe Thornton just plugs along, consistently playing well, but not finding that extra gear.

When I think of Milan Lucic I see the exact opposite of Joe Thornton. Thornton is consistent, Lucic is not. Lucic runs hot and cold, as do many of the Bruins. But when my team is down a goal with 2 minutes left in game 7 of the Cup final, I'd rather see Milan Lucic go over the boards than Joe Thornton. It is Lucic who will find that extra gear when the team needs it the most.

Tim Thomas is another example of the extra gear. In my view Timmy battles in order to not let down his team. That is what matters the most to him on the ice. If the game is on the line he always takes his play up another notch. There is no goaltender, past or present, who I'd be more comfortable with when the game was tied late or in OT. A lot of people get that, but what many don't seem to get is the other side of that same coin. Players say that a great save can inspire the team onward. I'm sure this is as true for Thomas as it is for any other goaltender. But the reverse is also true, and it seems obvious to me that it is even more true for Thomas. When he sees the team battling in front of him it makes him play all the better. But here's the thing I think people don't often get about him: when the team has a poor attitude and they aren't playing as hard as they should be, he too let's up. In order to play at his best Timmy needs to see the team working hard in front of him. They talk about a goaltender giving his team a chance to win and Thomas certainly does that. But before he can do that he needs the team to first give him the chance to win. This is why I don't blame Timmy when the team has a losing streak. To me, the correlation is obvious: poor play from the team around him often leads to less than stellar play of his own. Some might say that is a fault, and I suppose technically it is. It might be a critical fault if he played for a team that didn't work hard. On the other hand, the fact that he elevates his game along with the rest of the Bruins means that he too has the playoff gear. Tim Thomas, it seems, is also made for the playoffs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bruins Beat Ottawa with Five Hands Tied Behind Their Backs

In the second-to-last game of the season the Bruins walked away with a victory in Ottawa, against the team they will likely face in the first round of the playoffs. They did this without Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, or Boychuk, none of whom even went on the trip. Boychuk is nursing his knee and the others were given time to rest prior to the playoffs. Add to this Adam McQuaid, who played only 7 minutes because he "didn't feel right" and this was hardly the same Bruins team. Although the game did not have a lot of meaning for Ottawa either, it's not like they rolled over and played dead. To tell the truth I didn't expect the Bruins to put this one in the win column.

One reason for the win is the surprisingly good play of recent acquisition Torey Krug, who tallied his first NHL point. This young defenseman, who recently signed as a free agent out of college, looks like he has a lot of NHL potential. It is somewhat of a mystery how he wasn't drafted, but he would not be the first excellent NHL player to fall through that particular crack. Some people are simply late bloomers. Once again it appears that the Bruins front office has pulled off another smart acquisition. It didn't hurt that Krug wanted to play for the Bruins, but that too is a result of the leadership from the front office.

The main reason the Bruins won this game was the debut of Anton Khudobin in goal. When backup goaltender Tukka Rask went down a few weeks ago it was Khudobin's chance at prime time. But coincidentally, Khudobin had also been injured, leading to the desperate acquisition of Marty Turco to fill in. Khudobin, now recovered, made the best of his chance last night. I liked his quickness and especially his intensity, which did remind me a bit of Thomas. He has a way to go, however. His play seemed a bit "raw"; his positioning wasn't always that good and his rebound control nearly got him into trouble on several occasions. Regardless, I think this kid may one day be a very good NHL goalie.

One thing is for certain: with this one good showing some in the Boston media are going to anoint Khudobin as the "next Tim Thomas" and prematurely celebrate him as yet another "goaltender of the future." We will, no doubt, have to suffer through articles in the New England media about how the Bruins should trade Thomas over the summer, regardless of how well he and the team do in the playoffs. Mark my words. The Thomas haters in the media live for the day they can run him out of town.