Fan absences no longer excusable
Head for the street and the Causeway crowd
You can feel it in the air, when the team's in town
-The Dropkick Murphys
Chiefly speaking, victory-thirsty Boston sports fans are most likely to flock to the troughs so long as they convincingly promise to provide a sufficient stock of “Dirty Water.”
Newsflash: the artificial frozen pond inside TD Banknorth Garden has just that. Heading into tonight’s visit from the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins are a searing 5-1-1 on home ice and 11-3-4 overall –concomitant with a GF-GA differential of +14, second-best in the league behind San Jose- for sole occupation of the Northeast Division driver’s seat.
Starting with a 5-1 straightening-out of a disorderly Dallas Stars team on the 1st, Boston is technically undefeated (6-0-1) this calendar month, only missing out on one point last Saturday when the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers insidiously abolished a 2-0 Bruins lead en route to a 3-2 shootout decision.
Only then were there any grounds for underlining a possible case of wear-and-tear instilled by a hectic travel itinerary. (And even at that, it didn’t even send the Bruins packing empty-handed). Such a passé excuse plainly didn’t get its voice heard last week when, upon darting back home fresh off a profusely sweaty shootout win over the equally resurgent Chicago Blackhawks, the Bs made none other than the detestable Canadiens look like the shagged out travelers, planting a 3-0 first period lead and pacing themselves to a 6-1 triumph.
So what’s holding you back now? True, all things considered –recent history plus the fact that another three quarters of the regular season schedule still lie ahead- it is presumptuous to pronounce this team a certified, stable contender.
But any contented or confident proclamations of any degree are presumptuous unless they are made after the ultimate end is fulfilled. And it would be neither fanlike nor healthy to withhold, let alone ignore, one’s excitement until Game #82 wraps up and the Bruins’ spring itinerary is finalized.
Enjoy the good signs while they’re there, and don’t childishly draw attention by openly assuming the other skate shall drop before long. Hey, the plebeian-to-princedom Celtics of 2007-08 made it through the length of their campaign without the unspeakably feared blow to the Achilles Heel, did they? Ditto Barack Obama.
But what about 2001-02 or 2003-04? Yes, you’re factually correct to note that this franchise hung up a divisional banner at the conclusion of both those regular seasons, only to snuff out unceremoniously against Montreal before the calendar morphed to May.
But to be fair –and optimistically fair at that- this time around, the little things give light to more favorable signs. For one, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton are now indubitably propping up the rekindled Lunch Pail Gang torch, punching in a respectable balance of rumbles and lamp-lighters.
For another, the youth movement is making a habit of bringing in a new freshman phenom by the year, and this year it’s Blake Wheeler, already brandishing six goals in 18 career games.
And Claude Julien, for another, is in his second year as head coach, whereas in 01-02 and 03-04, the Bruins were subsisting on what later proved to be stimulating sugar rushes with first-year tutors Robbie Ftorek and Mike Sullivan. Within the next year, both of those overestimated, homegrown coaches crashed and were canned.
Not so with Julien, it appears. And with him, there is an equally long-lacking stability in the crease embodied by Tim Thomas (7-2-3 in twelve starts) and associate Manny Fernandez, who is pleasantly proving himself and his knee worth keeping after he gave out a month into last season.
When’s the last time the Bruins simultaneously had a satisfactory coach and crease custodian for more than a year? It would have to have been the combination of Pat Burns and Byron Dafoe circa 1997-2000. As it happens, those two were a few of the cruces behind Boston’s last venture beyond the opening round of playoffs in 1999.
And that’s what this particular fan base really wants, isn’t it? As a start, at least? Dream as big as you want, but this market is going on a full decade of repeatedly recycling a yearning for mid-spring hockey. Any specimen of progressivism should be welcomed and where this team stands, the bar is rigidly perched along the rung of Game 7, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
For the time being, the best the Bruins can do is to presage that playoff outburst for all in the Hub and the hockey spectrum to see. Taking up the old fashioned, night-to-night approach –for which there is no alternative- you can’t ask for anything beyond continuity of this hot streak.
Sure, they’ll lose in regulation a few more times. But that’s simply because, not to get too condescending here, you don’t win every game. We New Englanders should know.
So, if you still choose to doubt and deride for the sake of doubting and deriding, just admit that you don’t care much for hockey, admit that you’re not a complete Boston sports fan, then go chew on a puck and let the genuine Bruins Buffs enjoy themselves in peace.
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org