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.

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