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Monday, April 7, 2008

Bruins Commentary

“Reverse the Curse” On Ice

“I wanna heal, I wanna feel, what I thought was never real

I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long.”

-Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong

So, Hub hockey fans finally have the opportunity to go Gardening in the prime light of spring. It’s been four years, one lockout, one arena name change (from FleetCenter), umpteen personnel changes (though what’s so new about that?), and a revolution of achievements by all of their athletic neighbors, since the Bruins last played an 83rd game.

Looking for a kicker, are you? Well, vast as the reform of the Boston sports scene has been these last four years, apparently someone still has to play the role of stinker/heartbreaker/other-shoe-dropper. The emphasis of that notion has been emboldened by the assigned match-up for this year’s conference quarter-final.

Here are your fundamental facts: it’s #8 Bruins vs. #1 Canadiens, best-of-seven, and on the heels of a comedic 7-0-1 regular season series in favor of Montreal.

About six months after Boston’s last playoff hockey game, persistent New York Yankee fans were trying to soften the euphoria from the Red Sox drought-splashing World Series by insisting that New England would eventually regret its lost sense of identity.

Reality check: as this series, slated to commence Thursday in Montreal, approaches, Bruins Buffs are likely hearkening back to Patriots Day 2004, when Alexei “Bleeping” Kovalev and Richard “Bleeping” Zednik collaborated to help the Habs to a climactic 2-0 triumph. All that coming after the Bs had sculpted an indulgent 3-1 edge in that series.

Only two years prior, the Bruins this year- snapped a two-year playoff no-show streak –as they have done this season- only to be knocked loose by the fabled French guys in Round 1.

Those two memories, and now the unthinkable imbalance over this year’s regular season, are merely Hershey’s syrup tinged with bitter almond atop the Bruins’ historical French limburger cheesecake.

None other than first-year Boston bench boss Claude Julien was the man of the ice house in Montreal the last time these teams convened in the post-season. Over his first go-around on the other side of the rivalry, he has swallowed an 8-game aggregate scoring deficit of 36-16 when, for some reason, the minds behind the “new NHL” thought more divisional games would accelerate the excitement.

But naturally, when informed that the “CH” was officially lurking after the regular season finale, Julien was quoted as follows: "Everybody seems to want to have a look at the global outlook, I guess, at the fact that it's 11 in a row now that we haven't beaten them. That's the number that keeps coming up to everybody. The number that comes up to me is the last two games that we played them."

At times, when the ice looked choppy in his squad’s quest just to reach this point, Julien had the euphemistic tendencies of your high school parents’ newsletter. But all things considered, he is being nothing short of commonsensical now.

After all, the Bruins are not in the second season, as the cliché goes. They are in their second playoff. And the heat of the first playoff, one could argue, spiked when these teams wrapped up their regular season series less than three weeks ago. After swallowing a 4-2 falter at home on March 20, the Bruins proceeded to at least extract a point by virtue of a shootout loss (the new “regulation tie”) at Bell Centre two nights later.

Leading up to their sleep-skating 3-0 loss to Buffalo in the finale last Saturday, however, they stamped a 4-0-2 sprint and claimed their playoff passports against GM Peter Chiarelli and captain Zdeno Chara’s old chaps in Ottawa.

Some say emotion is overrated. But when there’s nothing to lose –and there really isn’t when you think about it- you might as well mix it in with your Gatorade powder.

Julien is, after all, facing one of the clubs that canned him. His current pupils have, after all, chipped at least a small hole in their Canadien chrysalis at a point where the impression is still plenty fresh. And they are potentially getting back top point-producer Marc Savard sometime for this series.

Savard went down back on March 22 at, you guessed it, Bell Centre, when Steve Begin clipped him from behind to distort his back.

Of course, it’s all trivial when the puck drops. But so is the notion that this is in the bag for the Canadiens.

For them, 2002 and 2004 in of themselves should serve as a couple of caveats. The Bruins had finished 1st and 2nd respectively in those years.

And, while perhaps only this commentator and WBZ play-by-play man Dave Goucher can recall this, the little brother in Providence may have an inspirational inscription in their history books. Back in 1996-97 (with Goucher mastering the mic), the Baby Bs charged up an abysmal 2-8-0 regular season transcript versus the now-defunct Worcester Icecats. It took Providence until the first week of April to finally drape an L around Worcester’s neck.

Two weeks later, the 100-point Cats and 75-point Baby Bs were to lock twigs in a best-of-five first round series. Worcester promptly seized the first two games through a pair of 5-4 earthquakes. But the Bruins subsequently pulled what the Red Sox have long since become the executive producers of: an epic rally. A 4-2 grinder in Game 3, a double-overtime 5-4 walk-off, and a 3-2 nail-biter granted Providence the series.

But again, it’s of no tangible influence on the issue at hand. What it should do, though, is assure Garden goers not to automatically scamper off in nausea just because they see bleu, blanc, et rouge on the visiting bench. If anything, they should be rabidly salivating for a reversal.

Now, if only someone will take care of that overlap between Sunday’s Game 3 (a 7:00 face-off) and the Sox-Yanks 8:05 pitch at Fenway.

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