Friday, June 7, 2013

Bruins Quest for the Cup

The Quest: Stanley Cup. The Goal: Become Champions

Coming into these NHL playoffs, the Bruins were not the favorite to make a run at the title. Late in the season they seemed to fall apart and crumble their way down to a 4-seed, when all followers of this team knew they deserved the 2-seed over the Canadians. They whimpered down to the old Bruins we used to know, lacking in effort and overall seeming not to care when it mattered most. The team looked tired and worn down having to play six games in a matter of nine days to close out the season. Losing four of those six games, the Bruins had no momentum going into these playoffs. Rask was playing so inconsistent there was even talks of bringing in backup goalie Khudobin for the playoffs. People were even bashing Milan Lucic for playing soft and not stepping up and leading the team. The reeling Bruins headed into the playoffs playing a division foe: Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many thought that this series would be a cake walk for the Bruins and for the most part it was. the Bruins quickly took a 3-1 series lead and seemed to be in total control of the series. But then they seemed to lose that competitors edge and fire. They seemed to lay back in games five and six and that could to blame for why they lost both of those games. They reverted back to the old regular season Bruins. Game 7 was no different the Bruins took a quick 1-0 lead but then fell down 4-2 with just under ten minutes to play in the game. The Bruins season, which looked much alive just days before, was crumbling before our eyes. The Garden was dead, the team was dead and there was no hope of a comeback. Then with just under two minutes left, Lucic finds the back of the net and then there is life. 4-3 game, ninety seconds left in their season and Boston was in a mad rush to tie the game and force OT. And after pulling Rask to give an extra attacker the Bruins connected on a Bergeron wrist shot from the blue line.

4-4. Tie game. 50 seconds left in regulation. All you hear is noise. Screaming, yelling, fist pumping and people just losing their minds. The Garden which was dead just five minutes earlier was now the party spot in Boston. I'm sitting on the couch (kneeling on the ground actually) just fired up. Just moments before this unbelievable comeback, I was pulling the fan card where right before your teams doom you turn into a negative nelly. "This team will never do it", "Rask isn't Thomas, we need a goalie", "This team had no heart this year, just disappointing", "All that talent gone to waste on this team". Things like that, yes, were coming out of my mouth moments before I witnessed the best hockey game I'll ever see. And we hadn't even won the game yet. The game was only tied. This team still needed to win in OT to complete it. But, by the time they had tied it every single person, Bruin or Maple Leaf fan, knew that it was over. The Bruins were gonna come out firing and end it and take the series. And sure enough they did. Rask, who I was just bashing moments before, makes a couple great saves to keep them alive. And six minutes in who else, again, but Bergeron. On the rebound a wide open net and a series clincher. (Note: Milan Lucic, who was heavily criticized by many late in the season, was the leader of this comeback. He was the only guy with some fire while this team was down and out, finally showing he is the true leader)

BEST HOCKEY GAME I'VE EVER WITNESSED. Pandemonium, that's the only word I could even think to describe the Garden or my household for that matter. Just that feeling of joyous shock. Like you haven't totally comprehended what just happened, but holy shit you know it was good! There really isn't anything else to describe what happened. This was one of those moments where you just hug, fist bump or high-five the person next to you and take it all in, because this was easily one of the best Bruins games ever. One of the greatest comebacks ever.

Game 7 was one of those moments that sets a team off. You could feel it in the next series against the Rangers. The Bruins just wanted to get it over with. They knew they were better and they were playing better as well. They all believed something special was in the making with this team. There wasn't much to say about this series besides the fact that the Bruins dominated the weaker Rangers and took it handily in five games.

That set up a series with the mighty Penguins who were 3-0 against the Bruins this year (all games decided by a single goal though), and who might I add have Jerome friggin Iginla, who should be a Bruin. (Just to add some fuel to the fire here) And for the record, I believe Jaromir Jagr was a better pickup for us. Iginla has since been demoted to the third line for Pittsburgh and Jagr has been promoted to our second line with Bergeron and Marchand. And Jagr seems to have a lot more left in his tank. He looks faster, quicker, stronger and still has some elusive puck skills and helps set up a lot of offense whether it's on the power play or with our best line. This was the series all Bruin fans were expecting while we were sitting in the 2-seed position just a month earlier. Now we felt like a 2-seed and felt like we could take the NHL's best offense with our high powered D led by Zdeno Chara (the monster) and others (including a small scrappy Torey Krug who was playing in Providence just a month and is now a key part to the Bruins power play attack). So heading into this many Bruins fans knew it would be a dogfight and playing in Pittsburgh is certainly no walk in the park.

But, if you were to tell me before the playoffs started the Bruins were going to go into Pittsburgh in the conference finals and outscore them 9-1 in those first two games I'd probably punch you in the jaw and call you insane. And if you added in the fact that they went back to Boston and took game 3 2-1 in double OT where Rask makes 50-plus saves and we get out shot by over 12? You'd be on the ground at that point. But nevertheless all of this is true and the Bruins have the 'mighty' Penguins in a choke hold now up 3-0 facing off in Boston tonight at eight trying to end the series and avoid giving the Penguins any life. These first three games have been total domination to say the least. At least the first two games were. Offensively and defensively the Bruins controlled the game. Equalized Crosby and Malkin (also I've barely heard Iginla's name up until this point) and made the Penguins play Boston Bruins kind of hockey. The offense looks smooth and clicking, Lucic is bringing people reminders of the great Cam Neely and David Krejci is doing his best impression of Joe Thorton. And Rask has at certain times been lucky and other times he has been standing on his head as hockey experts say. Game 3 Pittsburgh came out looking desperate (because they are) and playing sure as hell like it. Game 3 was the type of game the Penguins were supposed to win. Taking over 50 shots, no bad defensive lapses and good goaltending, all things that led them to the 1-seed and home ice advantage. But, the Bruins were in 'that' zone. The type of zone they had in the game 7 overtime against Toronto. Relentless and not backing down. And a lot of the credit must go to Rask for playing his ass off in this game. I can proudly say he is showing me glimpses of 2011 Tim Thomas who was the sole reason the Bruins won that year. Rask's play led them to a double OT victory in game 3; a game they shouldn't have won. Not because they didn't play better or give the effort just because they weren't supposed to win. the 'mighty' Penguins aren't supposed to fall down 3-0 to this team. This series was supposed to be a dogfight and it just plain isn't. the Penguins are down (very far actually) but not out (certainly close though). Even on their best night they couldn't eek out a victory against this team and they way they were outplayed in the first two games and the way Boston somehow won game 3 (another all-time great game by the way) the Penguins are as close as you can come to being finished, and the Bruins are just starting to peak.

I don't know how, but the Bruins are the heavy favorite in the east now and are so close to the finals they can taste it. All because of one game. That Game 7 in the Garden against Toronto on May 13th changed this team. They have a purpose now. They have a goal. Something special is going on here.

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