Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Morning After

Ok, so it's not exactly the morning after the Bruins loss to the Habs in game 7. But that morning, I didn't really feel like thinking about hockey at all, much less writing about the Bruins. This loss hurt more than any in recent memory.

But I did just finish watching the final episode of Behind the B, so what I would have said at the time has all come rushing back.

I believe the Bruins lost their composure during this series, and in game 7 in particular. In the final episode of Behind the B Claude Julien is overheard yelling from behind the bench early in the series. "Come on! Have they got under your skin?" he asked. In the end, I think they did.

It's also pretty clear that the Habs wanted very badly to beat the Bruins. In a certain emotional sense, it seemed they wanted to beat the Bruins more than even win the Cup, and I am sure that by now they are taking some solace in their defeat of the Bs after their Conference Final loss to the Rangers. That's the problem with everyone expecting you to win the cup; the battles along the way are just that. For the Habs, who have been somewhat humiliated by the Bruins in recent years, this series meant a lot more than just another step toward the Cup.

I think the Habs did get under their skin. It showed in the Bruins' play, whether it be the missed opportunities in the offensive zone or the break downs in front of their own net. As an example, it's a very fine line between blocking a shot and screening your goaltender, and the Bruins crossed this line rather uncharacteristically. On one goal, even Big Z was caught standing right in front of Rask, something he hasn't done since the start of the 2013 season. Even worse, how else do you explain the Bruins coming out flat in the first period of game 7, at home, in front of a roaring crowd? Something was clearly wrong in their psyche.

I think the key moment to the Habs victory in the series came off the ice, when Suban was asked about the racist tweets after game one, and he responded with so much class that even Bobby Orr would have stood up and applauded. But while that was going on off the ice, the usual shenanigans were occurring on it. I am sure that every Bruin felt that the Habs were the guys wearing the black hats in this series, but it seemed like the world -- and the referees -- saw it the other way around. This even continued after the game, when Weise took potshots at the Bruins for Lucic's unsportsmanlike behavior in the hand shake line. Lucic had every right to be angry at Weise for those comments. Weise should have laughed it off, been a good winner, and moved on. But he got away with it. It was Lucic who was ultimately seen as the guy in the black hat. Now, I'm not condoning what Lucic did. I'm just pointing out how thoroughly the Bruins lost the upper hand in the good guy vs. bad guy department. Some Penguin and Hab fans may be astonished at the idea, but despite the whole "Big Bad" thing, the Bruins are used to seeing themselves as the good guys. When they start to question this, somewhere in the back of their heads, that's when the other team has gotten under their skin.

Another aspect of this whole PR thing is the bizarre behavior of the referees, particularly in game 7. I'm not going to claim that the officiating lost the Bruins the series, because a great team will rise up to the challenge, kill off the penalty, or simply not be in a position for a penalty kill to end their season. But that said, the officiating in this game was the most influential I have ever seen in all my 43 years of being a fan. Given the way the series had gone, everyone who was paying attention knew that the first goal was going to be huge, particularly if the Habs scored it. So when Markov cross checked Marchand into Price early in the first period, it was monumental when the referee Dave Jackson called Marchand for goaltender interference. Watching the replay from any angle, it is wholly inexcusable that he did so. You could not watch that play, see the interference, yet not see the push. If anyone should have gone to the box, it should have been Markov. When the Habs scored on the ensuing power play, the Bruins very quickly had a hole to climb out of, and it also appeared that Marchand was thrown off his game by the incident.

After that the Bruins had to play catch up. Fast forward to the third period with 4:31 to go. The Bruins are down by a goal and swarming the Habs net. They had come back in this situation before earlier in the series; the game had opened up, and the momentum appeared to be moving in their direction. Yet again, at precisely the critical moment, Dave Jackson made an inexplicable call, this time on Johnny Boychuck. This was late in game seven, people. Every ref knows that they only call the big obvious game-changing penalties under these circumstances. Yet when Bournival chipped the puck past Boychuck and then skated into him, interference was called. With just over 4 minutes left, the Bruins were put in a deep hole, and it was one they could not get out of. You can claim that the Bruins didn't deserve to win this game, but that does not excuse the referee determining the outcome! By doing so he took something away from us fans. Now we will never know if the Bruins could have evened the game, and possibly won the series.

By the way, I'm not the only one who feels this way about how the game was officiated. After writing the above, I did a Google search and discovered that long-time referee Kerry Fraser was also very critical of the officiating.

Anyhow, this loss hurt. It hurt because the Bruins were good enough to win the Cup. It hurt because it was the Habs. It hurt because the poor officiating took away their chance to tie the game late. It hurt because a Conference Final against the Rangers would have been epic. It hurt because the Habs got under our skin a little too, and our team didn't always seem like the good guys, no matter how much we wanted them to be. But it was not due to any one player or coach. Rather, it was one of those human intangibles that affected the whole team, and I doubt it is something we will see repeated next season. So if you want to blame someone for the loss, don't blame Marchand, or Lucic, or Rask, or Krejci, or Bartkowski, or even Dave Jackson. There is one person more responsible than anyone else for this loss, and it was Malcolm Suban. Not only was he the best player on the ice, but he was also a class act off it. In the end, that combination simply proved to be a bit too much.

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